WATCH: Pliskova came off a first WTA 1000 semifinal of the season to defeat Venus Williams in Cincinnati.


What a difference a week makes. Karolina Pliskova was feeling just “okay” in the aftermath of a titanic US Open first round against Magda Linette.

“I'm usually okay but sometimes some little injuries somehow they are showing up, which I was never use to that, but I suppose it's the age,” said the former world No. 1 after surviving in a final-set tiebreaker.

Pliskova spent the start of 2022 dealing with a decidedly big injury, a fractured right wrist that ruled her out of the Australian Open. Early exits piled up as she returned to action in time for the BNP Paribas Open and it wasn’t until a semifinal finish in Toronto that the once and future Ace Queen saw potential for her season.

Now into her sixth US Open second week out of the last seven, the 2016 finalist on an overdue high, but can she take advantage of a wide-open field in Flushing Meadows?

Why She’ll Win

The so-called field of opportunity has winnowed considerably in the top half of the draw as fourth-round clashes consist of largely established favorites. Top seed Iga Swiatek headlines while Pliskova is in a quarter with fellow former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, Australian Open finalist Danielle Collins, and 2021 US Open semifinalist Aryna Sabalenka.

Still, Pliskova owns a combined 7-6 record against the trio and has won the most recent match in all three head-to-heads. She followed up the near-disaster against Linette with a more straightforward encounter against countrywoman Marie Bouzkova and rallied from a set down to score her first win over Belinda Bencic in the third round.

Known for her offensive capabilities, the 30-year-old shined brightest on defense as light faded on Grandstand—a development that left Pliskova bemused in post-match press.

“This is really not, like, my game to play defense,” she said in her inimitable monotone. “But sometimes I think she really played well, especially from the backhand. She was playing deep so there was not much I could actually do about that.

“Of course, still I want to attack. I just had the feeling I was winning most of the long rallies, especially if I went a little bit more to her forehand. I was not waiting for mistake, but still trying to be aggressive, but not really like overplaying it.”


In the summer I was just trying to find my game back. I think it's actually there. Now I can say I play I think the best tennis I was playing this year so far. Karolina Pliskova

While she can’t play a full fortnight on the back foot, Pliskova is pleased to employ other options on court and show off her improved physicality under trainer Jez Green. The two conducted a mid-summer training bloc that foreshadowed her Toronto turnaround.

“He told me that working with Andy Murray, like it was quite tough for him: Andy asked him so many questions, so now he's kind of like ready for anything,” she explained in Cincinnati. “I don't give questions. I just do what he says.”

Playing on quick courts that suit her primarily high-octane style, Pliskova’s increased confidence couldn’t come at a better time, particularly as Swiatek continues to struggle with the tournament’s now-notoriously light ball.

“Lately in the summer I was just trying to find my game back. I think it's actually there. Now I can say I play I think the best tennis I was playing this year so far. There was not much good tennis from me!

“But anyway, I'm just happy with my level. Of course, I think matches like this can only help.”


What To Watch Out For

Her biggest obstacle is also the closest: Pliskova stands at 4-4 against Azarenka, and trails the two-time Australian Open champion 1-2 on hard courts—though the last match on that surface came in 2018.

Azarenka has enjoyed a resurgence of her own throughout the first week, shaking off a close opener against American Ashlyn Krueger to earn straight-set wins against both Marta Kostyuk and Petra Martic after missing Wimbledon due to the Russian/Belarusian ban.

Though the three-time US Open finalist has dealt with numerous ups and downs since leaving tour to give birth to son Leo, Pliskova remarked on Azarenka’s stabilizing on-court results in press on Saturday.

“She's not really, like, winning titles, but also she never, like, lose early in the tournaments,” she said. “Especially on hard courts, I think she's stronger.

“I think it's actually similar matchup to with Bencic. Both much better backhands. Yeah, the tactic is going to be similar.”

But where Bencic tightened up in the third set, Azarenka has far more big-match experience, meaning Pliskova will need not only channel her own US Open memories but also ramp up her on-court aggression to secure her first Slam quarterfinal of the season—and beyond.