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After Barty's Paris win, is Pliskova next to flip script at Wimbledon?
The Czech has reached the second week just once in seven appearances at the All England Club, but owns two WTA grass-court trophies.
Published Jun 25, 2019
When Ashleigh Barty entered Roland Garros last month, the 23-year-old flew well below the radar of pre-tournament favorites selected by pundits. At the time, it was understandable. Her clay-court resume didn’t include a singles title, any prior strong showings in Paris, or many noteworthy match wins on red dirt.
History didn’t matter: the power of positivity emerged as a stronger force in Barty's journey. As perennial contenders fell by the wayside, the Australian's manner remained calm and encouraging, and by the final Saturday, Barty became the latest woman to string together seven victories for a major trophy.
For years, Karolina Pliskova has ranked highly in the “who’s next?” conversation on the Grand Slam stage. With an exceptional serve, deceptive movement and a capability to slap winners from nearly anywhere on the court, Pliskova has the physical tools to outhit the best. She’s ascended to the top of the rankings before, and neared the finish line at every major, except Wimbledon.
With Barty proving her game can be fruitful on clay, is Pliskova ready to change her narrative at the All England Club, a surface that in theory, should suit her imposing presence? Her coach, Conchita Martinez, is most certainly drawing inspiration from Barty’s French Open performance as reason to believe this time around can be different.
“We practiced with Ashleigh in Rome. Clay didn’t look like her best surface but everything happened at Roland Garros. The draw was opening, some of the players, including Karolina, lost. Ashleigh went with an open, positive mind,” Martinez told Tennis.com. “She knew it wasn’t her best surface but would do the best she could. It’s inspiring that she could change that. I do believe that opens the door for other players.”
Currently ranked No. 3 and playing in Eastbourne this week, Pliskova has won two titles on grass, but 2018 marked the first time in seven Wimbledon appearances she managed to get out of the second round (she eventually lost in the round of 16 to Kiki Bertens). At 6’ 1’’, grass requires the lanky Czech to modify her contact point more than most, though former Wimbledon champions such as Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Garbine Muguruza have shown committing to making necessary adjustments can lead to lucrative outcomes.
Her own toughest critic, Pliskova’s subdued demeanor seems to hold her back from coming through the difficult moments. That challenge in sustaining mental fortitude is an area Martinez hopes to rein in at the pair’s first Wimbledon together.
“It’s hard to know why she hasn’t fared so well. The main goal is to change that and go in with an open mind, try to adapt, and continue the preparation,” says Martinez. “It’s not easy for Karolina to be so low because she’s so tall. It’s something we’ve been working on with other surfaces. Of course, on grass, she needs to be even lower. I am positive she has a good game to do well on grass.”
Martinez knows what it takes to go all the way at Wimbledon, as a player and coach. She became the first Spaniard to lift the singles trophy in 1994, over Martina Navratilova; in 2017, she helped countrywoman Muguruza join her in the winner’s circle. For the former world No. 2, it’s the little intricacies that make all the difference in getting over the hump during a two-week event.
“It is not easy to win seven matches, to be completely focused on everything that you have to do right in order to win the tournament. That’s what it takes: keeping good routines, working hard and good preparation,” Martinez said.
“The days off are important, too. We’re going to have to work on this. For me, all the smaller details and taking care of them every day are very important. If we do [this] and Karolina goes in with a very positive mind, and an acceptance that this is a hard surface, I think she’s going to do very well.”
In May, Pliskova captured her biggest clay-court crown in Rome, silencing critics about her lack of significant titles away from hard courts. With the week-to-week unpredictability on tour right now, it wouldn't be a huge surprise if Pliskova replicates that success on the lawns of the London major.