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PREVIEW: 2023 Women’s Australian Open – Selected Second Round Matches – 19 January

Damien Kayat previews the 2023 Women’s Australian Open selected second round matches as Caroline Garcia takes on vs Leylah Fernandez and Karoline Plsikova faces Yulia Putintseva.

Caroline Garcia - Lyon Open

Damien Kayat previews the 2023 Women’s Australian Open selected second round matches as Caroline Garcia takes on vs Leylah Fernandez and Karoline Plsikova faces Yulia Putintseva.

Two women looking excitedly at cellphone

Caroline Garcia (39/100) | Leylah Fernandez (19/10)

This promises to be a fascinating second-round encounter between two women with proven Grand Slam pedigree. Outside of Iga Swiatek, Caroline Garcia was the leading player in women’s tennis during the latter half of 2022.

The Frenchwoman resurrected a flagging career with some of the most aggressive tennis you could hope to see. She collected titles in Bad Homburg, Cincinnati and Warsaw before lifting the biggest title of her career at the WTA Finals. She was also in devastating form at the US Open, ultimately losing in the semi-finals to Ons Jabeur.

She really seems to have gone back to basics and simplified her game to a few key elements. She serves brilliantly and uses her forehand to bludgeon her rivals. She is also ultra-aggressive on return, often standing inside the baseline on her opponent’s first delivery. This change in mindset has been critical to her success. She absolutely blitzed Katherine Sebov, winning a stunning 94% of her first-serve points.

20-year-old Canadian Leylah Fernandez burst onto the scene with a stunning run to the final of the 2021 US Open final (where she was defeated by fellow teen Emma Radacanu).

It seemed to herald a new age, where established powerhouses such as Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka were no longer at the forefront of the game. That may be true. But Fernandez and Radacanu haven’t really followed through on that promise. To be fair, the Canadian had a decent first half of 2022. She defended her Monterrey Open title before another excellent Grand Slam showing at Roland Garros.

She reached the quarterfinals, beating the likes of Bencic and Anisimova in the process. But it came at a cost, as she sustained a Grade-III-foot-fracture in her quarterfinal defeat. This really affected her performance throughout the rest of the season. She does seem reenergized this year, reaching a quarterfinal in Auckland and easily dispatching of Alize Cornet in her first-round match here.

Verdict: Garcia to win in three at 29/10

This will be the first career meeting between these two. This could actually be a decent test for the hard-hitting Garcia. Sure, these fast surfaces will suit her flat hitting style to a tee.

But Leylah Fernandez is your quintessential bullterrier, chasing down every lost cause with near fanatical relish. She is one player whose defensive skills could frustrate the Frenchwoman. Still, I think Garcia’s power will prove the decisive factor.

Karoline Plsikova (46/100) | Yulia Putintseva (17/10)

At 30 years of age, Karoline Pliskova probably recognizes that her years of competing at the very top are likely fading. Movement has always been her issue and she has started to pick up some injuries of late (she actually had to miss a chunk of last season due to a hand injury).

But with that diminished expectation comes opportunity. Despite being a former World No.1, Pliskova will feel as if she has let herself down by not winning a Slam (despite reaching two finals). But she surely should have picked up one during her illustrious career. I think the pressure to win crushed her. She may benefit from lowered expectations in the twilight of her career. I am actually willing to discount her first-round defeats in the Adelaide events. She always has a chance if her serve operates at its peak.

And she blew Xiyu Wang off the court in her opening match, accumulating 19 winners in the process. She has reached the semi-finals here previously and I think she could be a fascinating dark horse this fortnight. She reached the quarterfinals at last year’s US Open and still has real quality at her disposal.

Next up for Karolina Pliskova is World No.47 Yulia Putintseva. The 28-year-old Kazakh has been a real grinder on the tour for most of her career. She has a career high of 27 in the world (though she has hovered in and around the top 50 for several years).

The plucky baseliner has three Grand Slam quarterfinal appearances to her name (the last of which came at the 2020 US Open). She had a pretty dismal 2022 campaign and will be hoping for better success this year. Her year started poorly with a couple of defeats at the United Cup.

But she certainly showed improvement with an encouraging quarterfinal run in Hobart. Putintseva had shown all her grit to overcame Romanian Sorana Cirstea in her first-round match.

Verdict: Pliskova to win in three at 29/10

Pliskova holds an absolutely dominant record against the Kazakh, leading Putintseva 5-0 in their head-to-head meetings. Their last meeting came at the 2021 Cincinnati Open.

Pliskova is an obvious favorite following her emphatic first-round win. But I wouldn’t be surprised if the dogged Putintseva pinches a set. She showed amazing powers of determination against Cirstea last time out.

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