Thursday, September 8, 2016

When you mix stripes and Czechs at the U.S. Open

Karolina Pliskova's run at the 2016 U.S. Open has been quite impressive, though--if you just listened to commentators--you'd scarcely know that the rangy Czech star was even in the mix. Pliskova won her first big event, in Cincinnati, just a couple of weeks before the start of the Open. To get that win, she had to beat a red-hot Angelique Kerber in the final. All the same, the Czech's poor showing in majors (never getting beyond the third round) led many to believe she would ride her Cincinnati wave for a while and then crash in the early stages or the tournament.

Only she didn't. She made it to the round of 16, and then--before you could say "Ana Konjuh is the breakout player at the U.S. Open"--Pliskova had knocked out an extremely nervous Konjuh and reached the semifinals.

Pliskova, with her Kvitova-like English syntax, mellow demeanor, and intricate arm and leg body art, has become a Fed Cup beast. And while that doesn't always translate into domination at other events (here we are, right back to the subject of Kvitova), it certainly helps. Already having defeated Venus Williams in the round of 16, the Czech star's job tonight was to defeat Serena Williams. Serena was injured--she later said she hurt her knee in the second or third round--which made Pliskova's job easier.

We've all seen Serena play through various injuries, but tonight, she said, having an injury caused her to think about her knee rather than to focus solely on her game.

But this isn't to take anything away from Karolina Pliskova, who kept her cool throughout what had to be the most emotionally charged match of her career. Pliskova won 84% of her first serve points, which is a huge statistic. She also hit seven aces. Her 6-2, 7-6 victory made her the eighth woman to defeat both Williams sisters in one tournament, and the fourth woman to do so at a major.

While the television commentators rightfully heaped praise on the Czech player for her serve, it should be noted that Pliskova's return game was huge. She not only handled some of Williams's biggest serves, but steadily worked her way into rallies until she had the confidence that she could take control of the points. Her timing was that of a mature and elite player.

It should also be noted that Williams' quarterfinal match was a very tough one. Taken to three thrilling sets by Simona Halep, the world number 1 had to work very hard for a long time to get to the semifinals. Pliskova, for her part, had an easy time dispatching the suddenly very nervous Ana Konjuh, who had performed so brilliantly against Aga Radwanska.

The 18-year-old Konjuh, by the way, will be seen on a big stage again. She has a huge game, and her mental collapse in the quarterfinals is likely to be a "never again" moment for her.

Meanwhile, Caroline Wozniacki easily won her quarterfinal when her opponent, Anastaija Sevastova, sustained an injury early in the match. Sevastova (who took out 3rd seed Garbine Muguruza in the second round), played on, but she was clearly hurt and unable to move very much.

That put world number 74 (and former world number 1) Wozniacki into a semifinal contest against world number 2 Angie Kerber. Kerber defeated Roberta Vinci in the quarterfinals, and their first set was a thing of beauty, which the German won 7-5. But Vinci was done, and didn't win a game in the second set.

Before Kerber even stepped on to Arthur Ashe Stadium, she had a victory. Serena's loss meant that Kerber will be number 1 in the world when the new rankings are published on Monday. She would have become number 1 a couple of weeks ago had she defeated Karolina Pliskova in the Cincinnati final. So Pliskova kept her from getting the top ranking then, but tonight, was responsible for Kerber's rise to number 1. Funny.

Kerber defeated Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3. The German soon-to-be-number-1 hit 19 winners and made 16 unforced errors.

There was also exciting doubles semifinal action. Bethanie Mattek-Sands and Lucie Safarova defeated Olympic gold medal winners Ekaterina Makarova and Elena Vesnina 6-2, 7-6, and top seeds Caroline Garcia and Kiki Mladenovic defeated Martina Hingis and CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-4.

Vandeweghe is still around, however. She and partner Rajeev Ram have made it to the mixed doubles final. Their opponents will be Laura Siegemund and Mate Pavic.


Roi said...

There is something about Pliskova which reminds me so much of Lindsay Davenport, maybe because she is very tall too, but she seems to move very slowly on the court (I know that's wrong, but it looks like). What a match, it's a shame Williams was injured but I could't tell, they were both hitting the ball so strong on such long rallies.

But to me the real highlight of the evening was to see Wozniacki's power game. OMG, she always had that forehand? And that serve? If there would have been anybody other than Kerber on the other side of the net, she would have won that match. No kidding, she was that good.

Go Angie!!!

Diane said...

Woz was quite impressive throughout the tournament. Really, I didn't see it coming. And yes, if she keeps hitting like this, she can turn her career around again. But wait and see--she has a kind of one step forward, two steps back career pattern.

Others have said that Plishy makes them think of Davenport. Tall, clean and hard hitting, not too speedy. Just think, if Pliskova improves her movement, starts to have a feel for the net, and improves her second serve! Of course, we said that about Petra, and she even did those things, and look where she is. Perhaps Pliskova can lead the way.

Anonymous said...

From New York Times Serena Williams Loses Bid for 23rd Major and Her No. 1 Ranking


(Re: S. Williams' injury that we all of a sudden heard about, when S. Williams said it happened in the 2nd or 3rd round)

"These are the moments when many players wither and shrink. But Pliskova held firm. Even later, when asked if she was bothered that much of the focus was on Williams’s knee problem, Pliskova refused to let it distract her from happiness.

“If someone is not ready and she doesn’t think she is ready, she should not go on the court,” Pliskova said. “I would say it’s still her choice if she wants to play or if she is ready to play or not. I’m just happy with my win, and I’m not going to think about something like this.

Diane said...

Serena looked injured to me, for sure. Amd she has played through many injuries and won. But the Halep experience (and probably her age) must have done her in.