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Karolina Pliskova shakes off slump to surge into first Wimbledon semifinal
The former No. 1 hasn't been this far at a major tournament since 2019, but is yet to drop a set at the All England Club.
Published Jul 06, 2021
WATCH: Karolina Pliskova is first into the Wimbledon semifinals with an emphatic win over Viktorija Golubic.
Ask anyone: Karolina Pliskova is in a slump. The former No. 1 came to Wimbledon ranked outside the Top 10 for the first time in five years, having only won a single match since getting double-bageled by Iga Swiatek in Rome.
For her part, Pliskova wasn’t doing much asking, but that hadn't stopped plenty of people from telling her about herself.
“I mean, of course it's difficult, especially in these days where so many people can just talk to you, like, without even thinking about it,” Pliskova mused in press on Monday. “So, first of all, social media. Second of all, some people just approach you and they say what they think without me wanting to hear that.
“So, I think it's difficult because of this, because maybe I have some feeling, maybe I have some opinion about my game. But if a hundred people tells you something different, and just to still think and stick with my opinion sometimes is hard, especially in these times.”
If 99 people didn’t believe she could have her best Wimbledon result in 2021, at least one person did. Over dinner long before the grass-court swing began, good friend Donna Vekic told me she promised Pliskova she would "for sure" reach the quarterfinals.
"She didn't say that to me, honestly!” Pliskova laughed, unwittingly disputing the clean narrative I’d crafted. “I didn't know, [but] we speak a lot. She also messaged me yesterday.”
The No. 8 seed indeed made the quarters—ironically at Vekic’s expense, beating her in the second round—and better with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Viktorija Golubic, a triumphant return to No. 1 Court that that completes a boxed set of major semifinal appearances.
“I was just feeling well since the first match, I think. I started a little bit shaky, and since that moment I'm playing quite well, super solid, serve is working. Of course I have the confidence in me. If I can play like this, that's why I'm here."
Grass always seemed like it should be a straightforward surface for the once and future Ace Queen; her big serve and booming ground game ought to have made Wimbledon her breakout major and not the blight on her otherwise glittering Grand Slam resume.
Despite reaching five WTA finals on grass—winning three—it took her seven tries to even win back-to-back matches at the All England Club. Rather than play to her strengths, grass exposed her every weakness: her reticence to mold her body to each ball, the bad bounces that offended her steadfast perfectionism—all on top of the general stress of wanting to win a maiden major title.
...Maybe I have some feeling, maybe I have some opinion about my game. But if a hundred people tells you something different, and just to still think and stick with my opinion sometimes is hard, especially in these times. Karolina Pliskova
Her most recent Wimbledon looked like it would at last take her into the quarterfinals, only for it to end in the closest defeat since the tournament instituted its new scoring system and a 13-11 final set to countrywoman Karolina Muchova.
That version of Pliskova, the one ranked in the Top 3 and seemingly at the peak of her powers, has largely been nowhere to be found since the 2020 lockdown came to an end. Her record outside two runner-up finishes in Rome was a paltry 13-15 since last August and a coaching change to Sascha Bajin had done little to stop a more worrying trend: she hadn’t been past the fourth round of a major in over two years.
Well as she’s played through the first week at SW19, there was no reason to think that poor form couldn’t crop back up, first against a streaking Liudmilla Samsonova and again on Tuesday with Golubic, a tricky opponent who had just undone a similarly big hitter in Madison Keys 24 hours earlier.
They were the ones in form, and Pliskova, remember, was in a slump.
The Czech ultimately set aside all doubts to breeze through both matches. Playing Golubic under the roof, she took the opening set in under 40 minutes and battled through a 10-minute penultimate game to maintain her lead even as the Swiss threatened to charge back.
A surface that typically gave her fits had suddenly bent to her will; she converted defense to offense in the following game to engineer one match point, and later executed a deft drop shot to pull off another. When a frustrated Golubic finally went wide with the forehand, it was all over.
With eight aces and 28 winners, Pliskova went from an obvious early exit to first into Wimbledon’s final four. Yet to drop a set this fortnight, she awaits No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, whom she's never beaten, but substantially outweighs the Belarusian in major experience.
Karolina Pliskova is playing well enough to win this title. Ask anyone.