The Czech power hitter proves that the simplest answer is usually the right one.

It’s unlikely that you’ll ever have a serve as smooth and uncluttered as Karolina Pliskova’s. She makes the game’s most complicated shot look easy. All she does, it seems, is toss the ball up and hit it for aces. The unprepossessing 24-year-old led the WTA in them last year. The first thing to learn from Pliskova is to try to cut all wasted motion out of your delivery. Toss, reach and hit: that’s all you need to do.

Pliskova is proof that tennis, like life, is all about timing. Tall but slight, she hits with as much pace and penetration as any WTA player. Pliskova can generate this easy power because her ball-striking is so clean. That, rather than strength, has always been the true source of power in tennis. Ask your pro if there are drills or exercises you can do to sharpen your hand-eye coordination. On court, the first step to hitting your strokes cleaner is also the simplest: watch the ball hit the strings.

Karolina Pliskova

LEARN FROM THE PROS: Karolina Pliskova


Topspin is safe, but if the WTA has proved anything in recent years, it’s that flat power is hard to beat—you just have to be able to control it. Angelique Kerber, Serena Williams, Agnieszka Radwanska and Pliskova: for the most part, their swing paths run parallel to the court surface. The advantage is that the ball moves through the court more quickly, and you take time away from your opponent. The disadvantage is that you have less margin for error. The best option is to develop topspin strokes that you can flatten out on high balls.

Oftentimes Pliskova barely bends at the waist or the knee when she hits the ball. It’s hardly textbook technique, and it can make her look as if she’s only half-trying. But if that’s true, then how did she nearly win the US Open last year? By standing straight up, the 6'1" Czech is able to maximize her height advantage on her shots. As with her serve, there’s nothing extraneous about her ground strokes.

There are poker-faced players, and then there’s Pliskova. Win or lose, you never know what she’s thinking. But Pliskova showed in her run to the US Open final that there’s a lot of fight and desire under that placid surface. In becoming one of the few players to beat Serena and Venus Williams at the same Grand Slam, she fended off two of the best players of all time, as well as thousands of their fans. Pliskova said she was determined not to show any weakness in front of the partisan crowd, and she never did.