WATCH: Pliskova won both of her 2021 meetings with Sabalenka, including last year's Wimbledon semifinal.

NEW YORK—They say if you can make here, you can make it anywhere—but Karolina Pliskova and Aryna Sabalenka were having issues making it anywhere before their arrival in New York, New York.

“I thought it was disaster year,” said the notoriously blunt Pliskova at the US Open.

The former world No. 1 missed the Australian Open due to a fractured wrist and failed to reach the second week at either Roland Garros and Wimbledon, falling out of the Top 20 for the first time since entering the prestigious ranking group in 2015.

While Sabalenka didn’t miss any major portion of the schedule, her form was poor enough to make her wish she had.

“I was actually thinking after Doha and Dubai that I’d better just stop, take a little pause and work on things a little bit more because I was all over the place and I couldn’t handle myself,” the former world No. 2 admitted, hampered by serving yips and emotional difficulties.

“A lot of other stuff was going on in the world, a lot of pressure was on me,” she added on Monday, likely referring to the Russian-Belarusian invasion into Ukraine and subsequent banning of those athletes from Wimbledon.

All has turned around in Flushing Meadows, where the two will face off in a rematch of their Wimbledon semifinal encounter last summer. Pliskova won that match in three sets and finished runner-up to Ashleigh Barty, but hasn’t been close to a major final since.


I thought it was disaster year. Now it's going to be less disaster no matter what happens. Karolina Pliskova

“Everything is about the confidence,” she said. “Nobody forgets how to play tennis. You just need to sometimes relax a little bit. This is happening only when you win couple matches, three-setters, which I did earlier in all the hard-court tournaments.

Pliskova first showed signs of stabilizing in Toronto, where she reached her first WTA 1000 semifinal of the season. Looking stronger with each win in New York, she rallied from a set down to defeat Olympic champion Belinda Bencic before surviving fellow former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in one of the best matches of the tournament.

“I think I'm playing now quite good tennis, maybe even better than last year here,” she said.

Sabalenka was equally effusive of her own play in New York, having recovered from 6-2, 5-1, and match points down to Kaia Kanepi in the second round. She returned to the last eight with another comeback against Australian Open runner-up Danielle Collins, playing her brutally aggressive best to win nine of the match’s final 11 games.

“I definitely had really, really tough season,” said the No. 6 seed. “But at the same time I really appreciate this season because it show me even if something is not working for me, I'll be able to fight no matter what.

“It just shows me how good as a competitor I am. Yeah, it was tough. I just kept working, keep trying, keep pushing myself. Here I am, still here at the US Open, still fighting for my dream. We'll see.”


Erasing bad memories from her last trip to Arthur Ashe Stadium—a semifinal defeat to Leylah Fernandez—Sabalenka was able to diffuse the pro-Collins crowd in a way she couldn’t against the Canadian. The 24-year-old plans to approach Pliskova with the same level of wariness after admitting to previously underestimating the Ace Queen in both of their matches last season.

“The first match I won against her, I was like upcoming player, I was lower in the ranking,” she said of their Eastbourne meeting in 2018. “I was respecting every top player. I was kind of expecting great level from them.

“Then, like, last year two matches, I was in the top. I was, like, every time she was making me move, every time she was making winners, I was like, ‘What's going on? How is it possible? Oh, my God, she is making winners!’

“I wasn't kind of really respect her. Right now, I really expect great level from her. It's going to be tough. It's tough fight. Every time she will make some winners, it's not going to [be] pissing me off, it's going to be like, 'Okay, it's normal, she's making it, what next?'”

What next is a scintillating quarterfinal clash between two of the game’s heaviest hitters, one that could not only change the trajectory of their seasons, but also their careers.

For Pliskova, the former has already occurred.

“Now it's going to be less disaster,” Pliskova joked of her year, “no matter what happens.”