Pliskova finds her feet on clay


RG2017 semi-finalist Karolina Pliskova draws positives from her form reversal in Rome

Karolina Pliskova© Corinne Dubreuil / FFT

As talk of a maiden Grand Slam trophy rears its head with each impending major, favouritism does not always sit comfortably with Karolina Pliskova.

The matter-of-fact Czech is not the type to crave the spotlight at the best of times.

But the manner in which she consistently picks off a title on the eve of a major naturally thrusts her into the mix of contenders.

Three times last season the 28-year-old collected a trophy on the eve of a Grand Slam – in Brisbane, Rome and Eastbourne – only to come up short in the subsequent major.

So, when a left leg injury derailed her title defence against Simona Halep in the Rome final on Sunday, Pliskova was still able to find the positives.

There were confidence-boosting wins on clay over compatriots Barbora Strycova and last year’s Roland-Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, which book-ended a win against Russian Anna Blinkova and a gutsy three-setter against Belgian Elise Mertens.

“From this week, for sure, I think all the matches I played [were positives],” Pliskova said. “I think all week I was playing quite good tennis.

“I beat some good players on the clay, which is always good before this big tournament in Paris, just to have some matches, because in America I didn't have many of them. Of course that's positive.”

After she retired in the fourth game of the second set of the final against Halep, she saw the lighthearted side of it in her post-match interview.

It meant no lead-up title to jinx her Roland-Garros campaign.

“I think just like not making the title is maybe better, because every time I go to a slam I win a tournament before,” Pliskova said of her Rome runner-up showing. “Maybe that can be the difference.

“But last year I played [Petra] Martic on clay [at Roland-Garros], so I think that was quite a tough draw and a tough match… There are some girls, which they play amazing on clay.”

When Pliskova defended her Brisbane title to open her season only to crash out at the Australian Open in the third round, it continued a worrying trend.

Another early exit ensued upon the tour’s return at the US Open and meant she had not passed the fourth round in her past five majors.

A semi-finalist at Roland-Garros in 2017 when she pushed Halep to three sets, Pliskova remained optimistic she could break her run of early slam departures in Paris, provided the doctor gave the all-clear on the upper left thigh injury.

“I think it's combination of just playing now every day and tough matches,” she said of the injury.

“But, yeah, I don't think I'm a favourite there [in Paris]. Actually, now like in the last couple of slams, I would not really think about being favourite there.

“But we know I can play good tennis, so we just have to wait when it's gonna come.”

With a game heavily reliant on her aggression, Pliskova alludes to a battle for consistency as opposed to feeling the pressure in her bid to shed the tag as arguably the most accomplished player yet to win a major.

“I think it's not about if I'm favourite or not,” she said. “I think I just somehow sometimes find it difficult to play good tennis a couple matches in a row.

“And of course, I have been facing some good players I feel like in the Grand Slams, always. So sometimes you need luck to just get through some tough matches… I don't really have a plan how to go there, but I think just to have some matches like I had here [in Rome], that's how I have to play.

“Now I know this should work, even on clay, so that's gonna be my plan.”