Karolina Pliskova: Winning is becoming a habit for the much-improved Czech

Pliskova, 22, won her 18th match of the season

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The Independent Online

Winning can become a habit, as Karolina Pliskova is quickly discovering. The 22-year-old Czech is arguably the most improved player on the women’s tour this year and won her 18th match of the season when she beat Stefanie Voegele 7-6, 6-4 here in her opening match at the Qatar Total Open.

Having played in the final in Dubai on Saturday, Pliskova had had only one short practice session at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex before facing the Swiss No 3. The first set was tight, but Pliskova’s powerful serve helped her to close out the victory. Seven aces took her total for the season to 156, which is more than any other player on the main women’s tour.

“It wasn't that easy,” Pliskova said afterwards.  “She qualified, so she had played three matches here, whereas it was my first match.  I felt a little bit tired, but I’m happy that I went through.”

The world No 13 said the conditions were very different to Dubai. “It was hotter [in Dubai] than here, so the balls were flying more,” she said.  “Everything was a little bit faster.  You were not sweating here at all, and it's a bit more windy.”

Pliskova began the year ranked No 24 in the world but has already climbed 11 places. She has reached two finals, in Sydney and Dubai. Her scalps in the first two months of the season include those of Ana Ivanovic, Angelique Kerber, Victoria Azarenka, Garbine Muguruza and Lucie Safarova.

“I wasn't expecting anything from the beginning of the year,” Pliskova said.  “After the preparation it's always hard.  You just don't know what to expect. But I'm happy with the way I started the year. It’s going pretty well.”

Pliskova, whose twin sister Kristyna is the world No 123, comes from a fine tradition of Czech players. There are nine Czechs currently in the world’s top 100, with Petra Kvitova, the world No 4, the only compatriot ranked above her. Pliskova and Kvitova could meet in the third round here for the second time this year, the Wimbledon champion having won their previous confrontation in the Sydney final.

Carla Suarez Navarro will be Pliskova’s second-round opponent, though the world No 14 struggled in the early stages of her opening match against Muguruza, who is her regular doubles partner. Muguruza quickly faded, however, and retired when trailing 5-6 because she was suffering with a viral infection. Kvitova plays her opening match today against Jelena Jankovic, who beat China’s Zheng Saisai 6-0, 6-2.

Andrea Petkovic, who has played several long matches this year, recovered from a sluggish start to beat Belgium’s Kirsten Flipkens 6-7, 6-3, 6-2.  The German now faces Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas, who beat Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-2.

“Kirsten is not a great match-up for me,” Petkovic admitted afterwards. “I always struggle against her. I don’t necessarily like players who change the rhythm a lot and play a lot of slices. I always struggle with those players and I always struggle against Kirsten. I think she played really well, especially in the first set.”