Spectators who missed the on-court introductions before the second match on court one here on Wednesday at the Qatar Total Open might have been confused. Although Elise Mertens’ opponent looked like Karolina Pliskova, who had been scheduled to face the Belgian in the second round, she did not play to the standard you would expect of the world No 5.
Mertens won 6-2, 7-6, but her opponent was not the former US Open runner-up but her identical twin sister, Kristyna, who is ranked No 90 in the world. Kristyna had been called up as a “lucky loser” from the qualifying competition after her sister made a late withdrawal because she was still feeling exhausted after her Fed Cup exertions at the weekend.
Karolina Pliskova was the fifth player in the 28-strong field here to pull out of the tournament after the draw was made, which inevitably raised familiar questions about the Fed Cup’s place in the calendar. In some parts of the world Fed Cup matches last weekend finished less than 24 hours before the start of competition here.
Ashleigh Barty, who was on Fed Cup duty in the United States, would barely have had time to get here for her first-round match on Tuesday, while Pliskova and Caroline Garcia both blamed a lack of recovery time for their withdrawals.
Pliskova, who played a gruelling three-set match in the Czech Republic against Simona Halep in the Fed Cup on Sunday and arrived here the following day, said: “Fed Cup can destroy you, because to travel the day after when you have played a three-hour match against Halep, it’s not the best, for sure – not the best for my body, not the best for my career, not the best for this tournament.
“If I could choose of course I would take an extra week off between these tournaments and Fed Cup, but that’s how it is. I don’t have to play Fed Cup. I don’t have to play here. I can do my schedule by myself, but I was defending champion here last year, so I decided to try again, because I like this tournament. I always try to come, but it’s a question mark for future years.”
She added: “After I played my match with Simona, which was super long and tough, I just felt exhausted. From the first day here I was not feeling great and not ready. I have never felt actually this way. It’s normal that you are tired, of course, when you are travelling and playing a lot of matches, but I just feel that my body somehow is not ready.
“I had a temperature for a few days. Overall I just feel super-tired. My muscles are just hurting from the morning without even doing anything.”
Pliskova agreed that completing Fed Cup ties one day earlier would help but said there would still be problems for those players who have to adapt to playing in warm conditions outdoors, having just played indoors in countries still in the grip of winter. The tournaments here and in Dubai next week are played back-to-back and both have substantial prize money and ranking points at stake.
“Last year too I was sick here,” Pliskova said. “I think it’s just very tough scheduling.”
Asked if players should take more responsibility for their actions given that spectators buy tickets to see the big-name players, Pliskova said: “If the players are sick, what can they do? I didn’t come here just to watch the tournament or to practise for one day. But if it’s not possible, it’s not possible.”
Mertens will now take on Kiki Bertens, who recovered from a set down to win for the second round in a row by beating Carla Suarez Navarro 2-6, 6-1, 6-1.
Jelena Ostapenko, who played in Latvia’s Fed Cup victory over Slovakia at the weekend, was beaten 6-4, 6-4 by Elina Svitolina, who had lost both their previous meetings. Svitolina will now take on Karolina Muchova, who beat Su-Wei Hsieh 6-2, 6-4.
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