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Court Report: Australian Open to introduce 10-point tiebreaker in deciding set

 

In July 2017, less than a year after reaching her first major final, Karolina Pliskova reached the pinnacle of women’s tennis, climbing to the No. 1 spot in the world rankings.

Just a few weeks ago, Elina Svitolina achieved her own career milestone by claiming the title at the WTA Finals, extending her streak of triumphant championship matches to nine over two years.

Over the course of the past two seasons, those two have firmly entrenched themselves in the top 10 and have won a number of titles on multiple surfaces. One thing has eluded each of them, however: a Grand Slam crown.

With the tour being more wide open than ever—as evidenced by the fact that eight different players have won a major since 2017—can one, or both, of them break through?

Here’s a glance at each of them as they try cement their place among the game’s greats.

Pliskova's Pursuit

At the 2016 US Open, the Czech accomplished one of the rarest feats in women’s tennis the past two decades as she beat Venus and Serena Williams in the same tournament. She’d go on to reach the final, where she fell to Angelique Kerber in three sets. Despite that defeat, she established herself as a favorite for future majors.

However, reality has yet to meet with expectations.

There have been some moments, though: In 2017, the big-hitting baseliner reached her first career French Open semifinal on what is arguably her toughest surface, clay, which can negate some of her power. She’s also posted consecutive quarterfinal finishes at the Australian and US opens the past two seasons.

Surprisingly, Pliskova’s only reached the second week at Wimbledon once, which happened this year as she advanced to the round of 16 before falling to Kiki Bertens. On paper, the tournament was Pliskova’s for the taking: She was the only seeded player among the top 10 to reach the fourth round as upsets decimated the draw.

Taking advantage of a situation like that will be key to her major-title-winning prospects. She has the ability to create her own opportunities, too, and remembering that she’s been close to the pinnacle could serve her well at the Slams in the year ahead.

Svitolina’s Time?

From 2013 to 2016, the young Ukrainian won a title a year, all at the International level. After dropping her fifth and sixth career finals, Svitolina took off in 2017: capturing five titles, including three of them at the Premier 5 level. She also reached her second career Grand Slam quarterfinal at the French Open, and posted fourth-round finishes at Wimbledon and the US Open.

A Grand Slam breakthrough appeared to be imminent this year, given her performances in the most prestigious tournaments outside of the majors. After starting off the season with a victory in Brisbane, the 24-year-old carried that momentum over to Melbourne. Instead of playing through to her seeded spot in the draw, she was upset in the quarterfinals by Elise Mertens.

The Belgian would go on to have a breakout campaign of her own in 2018, but that loss represented a missed opportunity for Svitolina. At the French Open, there was more disappointment as she entered the tournament fresh off a successful title defense at the Italian Open. She fell in the third round there to Mihaela Buzarnescu, and a few weeks later at Wimbledon, lost her opening match to Tatjana Maria.

Svitolina made it through to the fourth round of the US Open, but then struggled through the fall. She managed to snag the sixth spot at the WTA Finals, and won all three of her round-robin matches. In the semifinals and finals, she beat Kiki Bertens and Sloane Stephens, respectively, in her third and fourth three-set matches of the week to snag, the biggest title of her career.

Now, the next step is to meet the expectations at a major head-on. The first opportunity for Grand Slam glory will come in Melbourne, where Caroline Wozniacki is the defending champion. If Svitolina were to look to someone for recent inspiration, the world No. 3 would be a perfect model: After taking the 2017 WTA Finals crown, Wozniacki carried that momentum into the 2018 Australian Open, finally shedding her title of being the best active player without a major.

Can Svitolina and Pliskova get the monkeys off their backs in 2019? The wide-open nature of the sport right now and their status among the best in the business will go a long way in determining whether they will be able to finally join their contemporaries as Grand Slam champions.


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