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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Karolina Pliskova

"She hasn't come through in the majors and she knows it. The longer that goes on, the more the pressure goes," Martina Navratilova says of Karolina Pliskova.

Photo credit: Mark Peterson/Corleve

Life can be lonely at the top—it’s even emptier when your ultimate goal eludes you.

Top-seeded Karolina Pliskova will try to crack the Grand Slam ceiling at the first bubble-wrapped US Open by winning her maiden major and shedding the ignominious label she wears along with Elina Svitolina as the best women yet to capture a Grand Slam title.

Navratilova: Serena's Ultimate Open Obstacle

Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova says Pliskova is one of the most explosive and enigmatic contenders in the Flushing Meadows field.

External pressure escalates with each passing major, but Navratilova suggests a bigger challenge is quieting the internal voice of self-doubt that will haunt the former world No. 1 until she lifts a Grand Slam title trophy.

Ultimately, winning is Pliskova’s only answer to silence skeptics and mute mounting uncertainty haunting her head.

Tennis Express

The former world No. 1 says Pliskova’s biggest challenge is between the ears in a conference call with the media to promote Tennis Channel’s coverage of the US Open, which begins Monday at 10 a.m. Eastern with Navratilova, Jim Courier and Brett Haber hosting “Tennis Channel Live at the US Open.”

“[Pliskova] is the most unpredictable of the top players,” Navratilova said. “She hasn't come through in the majors and she knows it. The longer that goes on, the more the pressure goes.

“In every interview she does, she's getting that question. It's really hard not to get down on yourself. Even if you have the belief, when you have to kind of refute that with every interview, it keeps getting into your head. It doesn't get any easier. The only way to stop those questions is to win, and you know that.”

Fifteen years ago, Kim Clijsters won her maiden major in New York to silence doubters who declared the Belgian "too nice" to win a Slam.


‪Background of @usopen

A post shared by Karolina Pliskova (@karolinapliskova) on

Since Jelena Ostapenko claimed her first Slam at the 2017 Roland Garros, eight of the last 12 women's Grand Slam champions have been maiden major winners, including Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Could this, her 32nd career Grand Slam, be Pliskova's time to break through?

The third-ranked Czech is the highest-ranked player in a US Open field devoid of six of the world’s Top 10-ranked women.

Yet many bookmakers list Pliskova as the third favorite to take the title behind 2018 US Open champion Naomi Osaka (5 to 1), and six-time US Open champion Serena Williams, who is an 11 to 2 shot to win her 24th Grand Slam title and match Margaret Court’s all-time major mark.

Veronika Kudermetova toppled the top-seeded Pliskova in straight-sets in the Western & Southern Open opener also played on the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center courts.

The good news for Pliskova, a perennial ace leader on the WTA Tour, is she’s now had more than a week to train on the new lightning-quick Laykold courts at the NTC that Novak Djokovic calls “20 to 30 percent faster” than previous years.

Pliskova says these are the fastest Flushing Meadows courts she’s played on as she prepares for her eighth US Open appearance.

“I thought it was quite fast since actually the first day I came,” Pliskova said. “I don't know how other people they think, but I think it's the fastest, like, ever been, these courts.

“I think I have played here couple matches, so I can compare with the years which I have played here. I don't know what's the reason to make it this fast, but, yeah, there is plenty of time to get used to it, but apparently one week was not enough for me.”

The question is: Will we see the powerful Pliskova who knocked off Sofia Kenin, Venus Williams and Serena Williams en route to the 2016 US Open final where she pushed Angelique Kerber to three tight sets?

Or will we see the more erratic competitor who hasn’t survived the fourth round in her last four Grand Slam appearances?

Another problem for Pliskova: one of the game’s most imposing servers owns a lackluster 2-5 tie break record this season.

Former coach and ESPN analyst Rennae Stubbs said during her tenure working with Pliskova, she urged the 6’1” Czech to develop a heavier kick serve as her second serve to set up first-strike forehands, give herself more margin over the net and offer a starker contrast to her slice first serve to create more variety.

In her opening-round loss, Pliskova persistently pounded flat and slice serves as second serves and couldn’t find the feel on that stroke spitting up nine double faults against 11 aces. Pliskova won just 11 points on second serve in her opening-round loss as she frequently tried to strong-arm her way through points rather than set up her forehand, which is her most penetrating groundstroke.

Firing flat strikes helped carry Pliskova to the 2016 US Open final and the 2019 Australian Open semifinals—she beat Serena in both tournaments—but when things get tight and the Czech loses her sometimes narrow net clearance she can be vulnerable to the low ball.

“Because of how she plays, very hard and very flat strokes, she doesn't have much margin for error,” Navratilova said. “When you get nervous, it makes it more difficult. I think that's why she's been a bit unpredictable or inconsistent, especially at the majors.”

Navratilova, who owns a record 167 career singles titles, says Pliskova should forget past failings and focus on what she can control: imposing her power-based baseline game on opponents and letting her shots fly.

“You just got to suck it up and keep the eye on the prize, really concentrate on that which you can control,” Navratilova said. “Look at it again as an opportunity. Not everybody is playing.

"For me, she should look at it as a plus that not everybody's playing, but without the pressure of I'm No. 1. Who cares? The draw doesn't care. There really is no added pressure because she's never won it before.

“In a way, yeah, she's No. 1, but she has never won a major. In some ways the pressure's off. She should not be the favorite.”


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