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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, September 2, 2020

One is done.

Caroline Garcia streaked through eight of the first nine games then held off a set point toppling top-seeded Karolina Pliskova, 6-1, 7-6(2) in the US Open second round.

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Landing a powerful performance, Garcia took off in her trademark jet plane celebration across a near-empty Louis Armstrong stadium to celebrate.

The former world No. 4, who failed to survive the second round in six of her first seven tournaments this season, was in full flight today.

The third-ranked Pliskova fought hard in the second set but made ignominious history as the third top seed to bow before the US Open third round.

"I had one chance in the second set, which was on her serve. So it's not like I was 5-2 up or serving for the match," Pliskova said. "That's quite different, I would say. But anyway, I think I didn't play that bad...

"I thought she played great tennis in the first set. She was just playing super aggressive, going for her shots. I maybe didn't play my best. I didn't serve that great, especially early in the match. But that's how it is sometimes. I'm not a robot, so I don't have to play every day amazing."

Winless in eight prior Grand Slam meetings vs. Top 10 opponents, Garcia played dynamic tennis winning 10 of 16 net points and was defiant on serving denying five of six break points.

“A few points can make the switch,” Garcia told ESPN’s Rennae Stubbs, Pliskova’s former coach, afterward. “I arrived to stay focused. I knew maybe she was going to come back—she wasn’t going to give me the match for sure.

“So I had to be ready for everything. When she came back very well, I arrived to stay calm and I think that was most important.”

It is Garcia’s sixth career win over a Top 5-ranked player and first since she defeated world No. 4 Elina Svitolina at the 2018 Stuttgart.

Tennis Express

Former world No. 1 Pliskova and Svitolina are widely regarded as the best women yet to win a major. Pliskova, who had contested the round of 16 or better in her past four Flushing Meadows appearances, was not totally engaged until the second set and never looked fully comfortable on the faster US Open court. 

Pliskova started the tournament as one of seven former world No. 1 players in the field and the only one yet to win a Grand Slam title. This defeat will raise more questions. 

“[Pliskova] is the most unpredictable of the top players,” Tennis Channel analyst and Hall of Famer Martina Navratilova said before the US Open began. “She hasn't come through in the majors and she knows it. The longer that goes on, the more the pressure goes…

"The only way to stop those questions is to win, and you know that."

Though the 50th-ranked Frenchwoman resides 47 spots below the world No. 3, this is hardly a seismic upset given the pair’s past history—Garcia beat Pliskova for the fourth time in seven meetings—and the powerful Pliskova’s recent struggles.

The bigger surprise was that Pliskova, the WTA ace leader three of the past four years, possesses such an explosive serve-forehand combination yet today she couldn’t effectively establish either weapon for sustained stretches. Pliskova, who struggled with her slice second serve in her Western & Southern Open opener, won just 9 of 21 second-serve points.

While Garcia’s serve and forehand can sometimes be sketchy under stress, the Frenchwoman fully committed to both strokes and was rewarded by the results. Garcia more than doubled Pliskova’s winner output—30 to 13—including firing 20 forehand winners compared to four for Pliskova.

Competing with more urgency and energy from the first ball, Garcia raced out to a rousing 5-0 lead just 25 minutes into the match. At that point, Pliskova had won just one point on her second serve.

Though the 2016 finalist held to stall her free-fall, the typically stoic Pliskova showed signs of frustration slamming her Babolat Pure Drive to the court after another error and tossing the mangled strick behind her court-side seat.

While Garcia was streaking as if operating on an internal GPS, Pliskova was reeling.

Showing feeble footwork and an unwillingness to construct points, Pliskova slapped another forehand into net facing set point.

Garcia, who has spent time this year training at the Rafa Nadal Tennis Academy, kept control closing a lopsided first set as the lanky Czech sprayed her ninth unforced error of the set.

Setting a year of struggle aside, Garcia competed with confidence and clarity today.

“For sure I think the past year and even more was a little bit complicated,” Garcia said. “Sometimes, there is up and down in a career and you have to learn from every part of it. And I think these few months helped me stay calmer and work a little bit more quiet at the gym. We did a lot of effort and I think it’s paying back and I feel more confident with myself.”

Playing proactive tennis, former French Open doubles champion Garcia won eight of nine trips to net. The bigger surprise: Pliskova, who is one of tennis’ most feared serves at her best, won just one point on second serve in the 42-minute opener.

A frozen Pliskova didn’t hit her first forehand winner until 46 minutes of play. Though Pliskova carried a 3-11 record when losing the Flushing Meadows first set into today’s second set, she didn’t relent.

After a tight opening set, Pliskova started swinging with a bit more freedom. Pliskova banged out her first break to even the set after eight games. Pliskova rolled through 14 of 16 points to take her first lead.

As the breeze picked up on Armstrong Stadium so did Pliskova’s game. Moving her feet faster to get her body behind the ball, Pliskova lashed a backhand winner down the line for love-30 in the 10th game. When the fully-stretched Frenchwoman nudged a volley into the tape, Pliskova had double set point.

Garcia denied both set points with some stinging serving. Garcia kicked a second-serve ace out wide—her fourth straight point—leveling at 5-all.

Plowing through a two-ace hold—her most emphatic service game of the match—Pliskova put the pressure right back on Garcia.

Battling back from love-30 down, Garcia salvaged a demanding hold to force the second-set tiebreaker.

The breaker was a microcosm of the match: Garcia asserted her forehand and attacked the ball with vigor. Cranking a couple of forehand winners and a crackling serve down the T, Garcia went up 4-2.

Jerking a backhand wide Pliskova gave Garcia four match points. She needed only one punishing a forehand return right back into the body sealing an impeccable performance in 93 minutes.

On a day in which her former doubles partner, Kristina Mladenovic, blew a 6-1, 5-1 lead and multiple match points suffering a gut-wrenching 6-1, 7-6(2), 6-0 defeat to Varvara Gracheva, Garcia completed her biggest win since she topped world No. 2 Simona Halep in the 2017 Beijing final.

Standing between Garcia and her first Flushing Meadows fourth-round appearance is Lexington champion Jennifer Brady.

The 28th-seeded Brady broke serve six times overwhelming CiCi Bellis 6-1, 6-2 in a 51-minute all-American thrashing on Court 17. Brady and Garcia have split six prior meetings and the winner of their next clash could face 2016 US Open champion Angelique Kerber for a spot in the quarterfinals.

“We have tough battles against each other—she’s very confident right now,” Garcia said of Brady. “She won her first title right now.

“She has the same weapons as me with the serve and forehand so it’s always tricky to play against her. I really want to enjoy it.”


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