HIGHLIGHTS—Karolina Pliskova vs. Victoria Azarenka, Wimbledon
In 2016, Karolina Pliskova reached the US Open final with a run of near-historic proportions as she defeated Venus and Serena Williams in the fourth round and semifinals, respectively. A year later, she entered the tournament as the world’s top player, but fell in the quarterfinals to CoCo Vandeweghe.
This time around, the Czech is the No. 8 seed and opens against Zarina Diyas. With fewer eyes upon her in New York, will she be able to improve upon those past results?
The return of Serena Williams, the long-awaited Grand Slam breakthroughs of Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki, the resurgence of Angelique Kerber and the major improvements made by Sloane Stephens have taken attention off of Pliskova, who spent most of 2017 trading the top spot with multiple players. This year has been somewhat of a struggle compared to the prior two, as she’s only won one tournament so far, at the indoor clay-court event in Stuttgart, Germany.
Pliskova won another four matches in a row afterward for her longest streak of the season. The clay, surprisingly, was where she was at her best this year. As the tour turned to grass, which better suits her power game, she failed to reach a semifinal and was upset in the second round of Wimbledon. That lack of form carried over into the North American hard-court swing leading up to the US Open, with multiple early-round losses. Her latest defeat came at the hands of Ekaterina Makarova in the first round of the Connecticut Open in New Haven.
Going into a major with a quick defeat and an eventual withdrawal from doubles due to a shoulder injury doesn’t exactly instill confidence. However, over the past few months, Pliskova has shown she is ready to keep battling her way out of her slump. She brought in former doubles specialist Rennae Stubbs as a coach to replace Tomas Krupa, with whom she had just started this year. And for the US Open, Pliskova will be working with Hall of Fame candidate Conchita Martinez throughout the tournament.
Last year, Martinez helped to guide her countrywoman Garbine Muguruza to the title at Wimbledon, a title she herself won in 1994 for her lone major.
With a power game tailor-made for faster surfaces, Pliskova will always be considered a contender at the hard-court majors. Having two former players in her camp who were known for their craftier styles, Pliskova will look to add some elements to her game that can possibly surprise her foes. In New York, she’s drawn to face Muguruza, the No. 12 seed, in the round of 16, then top-seeded Halep in the quarterfinals. The Williams sisters are also in their portion of the draw, arguably the strongest of the whole tournament.
While her 2018 season hasn’t gone to plan, Pliskova is still in the prime of her career. She can also look at this tournament from an opportunistic standpoint: If the last seven majors have been won by seven different players, why not her?
She has the ability to do so, and with less on an outside focus upon her, she can demonstrate why she belongs at the top of the game.
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