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There’s a reason that Karolina Pliskova has gone 17-4 in her last 21 matches on clay since Rome in 2017—she’s figuring out the terre battue, and gaining confidence on it. Sometimes that’s all it takes for a younger player who typically didn’t embrace the surface or the type of tennis needed to have success on it. Just look at Maria Sharapova and the now infamous “cow on ice” quote. The Russian used to loathe the surface as well, but that was before she became a two-time Roland Garros champion and one of the best clay-courters that women’s tennis has ever seen.

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Pliskova, who was 25-26 on clay before her recent uptick in form began, might be walking (sliding?) a similar path. The tall, powerful Czech picked up big confidence last year when she reached the quarters at Rome and the semis at Roland Garros, and she’s building on that with a Stuttgart title and a trip to the Madrid semis in 2018.

Petra Kvitova’s coach Jiri Vanek said an interesting thing while being interviewed by Courtney Nguyen on the WTA Insider Podcast last weekend about what may have held Kvitova back on the surface in the past, and the same thing might have applied to Pliskova. He said that the Czech was overthinking and worrying about doing the things that she felt good clay-courters were supposed to do, such as sliding and playing angles. He thought that the preoccupation might actually be sucking the life out of his charge’s game, and maybe that’s the type of realization that Pliskova has made in the last year.

Whatever it is, something has clicked.

“I feel great, I have to say, with all my shots,” she said on Monday at Rome. “I think the game has improved. My movement has improved. So everything is a little bit better. And obviously, I think it's because I played, in the end last year, the semifinal in Paris. So it just gave me some confidence coming to this new season. So I was like, last year, I wanted to play, actually, on clay.”

Pliskova has the power to hit through clay and that’s a big advantage, or at least it can be, on slower surfaces. Another thing working in her favor is the fact that she gets a little more time to get to balls on clay.

“For sure, it's the time,” she said when asked which part of her game gets enhanced by clay. “Because times I need some time for my shots just to, you know, push and be aggressive.”

She also says that her movement has allowed her to be a bit more productive with the time she speaks of.

“I think I slide a little bit more this year,” she said. “So just use the court a little bit more, a little bit better, with the angles. So if you really know how to move, I think it can help with the sliding. So I think just everything a little bit better.”

Which came first the confidence or the improved game? Hard to say, but it really doesn’t matter. All that matters is that Pliskova is on track to be a vastly improved clay-courter compared she was two years ago. That will help her ranking, and it will give her that one extra chance to make an impact at a major each year.

Time will tell if she’s a Maria Sharapova in the making, but Karolina Pliskova should embrace the improvements she has made to her game on clay. With a little more work and the confidence that goes with it, she could become the next Queen of Clay