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Karolina Pliskova, Johanna Konta continues winning runs in Australia

Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic makes a forehand return to Russia’s Anna Blinkova during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Aaron Favila / Associated Press)
Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic makes a forehand return to Russia’s Anna Blinkova during their second round match at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne, Australia, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. (Aaron Favila / Associated Press)
By John Pye Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia – U.S. Open finalist Karolina Pliskova has carried her title-winning form in the warmup tournament into the season’s first major, dropping just four games en route to the third round at the Australian Open.

Pliskova was leading 6-0, 4-0 against Anna Blinkova in the second round on Thursday before the 18-year-old Russian qualifier, ranked 189th, held serve and later held up her arm to acknowledge the cheers from the crowd. Fifth-seeded Pliskova finished off the 6-0, 6-2 in less than an hour – she won her first-round match 6-2, 6-0.

“It’s always good to be in the zone,” said Pliskova, who won the Brisbane International title earlier this month. “It can always be a bit better.”

Pliskova has reached the third round for three straight years at Melbourne Park, which equaled her best previous run at a Grand Slam until she reached the final in New York last September. She beat Serena Williams in the semifinals at the U.S. Open before losing to Angelique Kerber.

“I’m feeling pretty good on the court, confident,” she said. “Also, people are talking I have a good chance to win a Grand Slam, but we are just in third round, so let’s see.”

She will next play Jelena Ostapenko, who beat No. 31 Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-1.

Johanna Konta, who made a surprising run to the semifinals in her debut Australian Open last year before losing to eventual champion Kerber, advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-2 win over Naomi Osaka.

Konta, voted the WTA Tour’s most improved player of 2016 after moving from 48th to 10th in the rankings, opened the season by winning the Sydney International title last week.

Konta will next play former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki, the U.S. Open semifinalist last September. Wozniacki was broken while serving for the match against Donna Vekic, but immediately broke back at love to win 6-1, 6-3.

WTA Finals winner Dominika Cibulkova held off Hsieh Su-wei 6-4, 7-6 (8) and will next play No. 30 Ekaterina Makarova, who was leading 6-2, 3-2 when Sara Errani retired because of a leg injury.

No. 21 Caroline Garcia beat Oceane Dodin 6-7 (3), 6-4, 6-4.

In men’s second-round matches, No. 18 Richard Gasquet beat Carlos Berlocq 6-1, 6-1, 6-1 and No. 32 Philipp Kohlschreiber beat Donald Young 7-5, 6-3, 6-0.

No. 30 Pablo Carreno Busta had a 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 win over Kyle Edmund to move into a third-round match against either six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic or Denis Istomin. Andy Murray returned to the practice court for an afternoon hitting session under the scrutiny of coach Ivan Lendl, allaying concerns about his injured right ankle. Top-ranked Murray, a five-time runner-up at Melbourne Park, twisted his ankle and tumbled to the court during the third set of his otherwise routine second-round win on Wednesday night.

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