RG18

CZECH-IN TIME: PLISKOVA OUTLASTS SAFAROVA, PREPARES FOR SHARAPOVA

by

Jane Voigt

Karolina Pliskova is on a dangerous path. She didn’t choose it for herself, either. The women’s singles draw donated it to the Czech Republic’s sixth seed. Nonetheless — and on one day — she did her job well, advancing to the detriment of her compatriot Lucie Safarova, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1. 

Next for Pliskova is Maria Sharapova, a two-time Roland Garros champion. Farther down the road could be Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion or, if we get out our binoculars, Angelique Kerber or Simona Halep next week.

Wait one second. Projection at a Grand Slam is like buying future stock options. They could pay big bucks or empty your pockets.

For now, Pliskova can rest easy. She has a guaranteed berth in the third round and a day off on Friday. It’ll be time to recover, rethink strategies and tactics, and polish her liquid-like serve that connected for 13 aces against Safarova. Early in the match, however, Pliskova’s aces were not as much of an asset, as Safarova barreled out to a quick start.

“When she’s at her best, she’s so dangerous,” said the on-air commentator for Tennis Channel. “She gets Pliskova on the defense.”

The defensive posture, though, morphed into an aggressive and precise pattern from Pliskova after she broke Safarova to close the second set.

“The game on 5-4. She helped me quite a lot to get the set,” Pliskova said to the press. “[Those] were the first couple of mistakes which she did actually, I think, in a row. So I was able to break pretty easily.”

The scales had tipped decisively by that point.

“I felt like she was a little bit tired and she was doing more mistakes in the end,” Pliskova added.

Appearing in only her seventh main draw at Roland Garros, Pliskova’s best result was scored last year when she advanced to the semifinal and then lost to Simona Halep. In all of Pliskova’s other appearances in Paris she had not advanced beyond the second round. Therefore, on paper, Safarova was the more experienced of the two on Thursday.

Safarova was the runner-up to Serena Williams at the French Open in 2015. Additionally, Safarova has won five Grand Slam doubles titles: Roland Garros with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in 2015 and 2017; the U.S. Open with the same partner in 2016; and the Australian Open in 2015 and 2017 with Mattek-Sands. However, this season for Safarova has been plagued by illness. She missed Indian Wells, Miami and Madrid.

The lack of matches also could have been one of the reasons Safarova’s play dipped and unforced errors mounted in the second and third sets.

“I know maybe if I do the second set, physically probably she’s not feeling the best right now because she’s not having many matches,” Pliskova said. “But, yeah, that’s what happened in the third. I felt better and, I think, she was struggling a little bit physically.”“She’s one of the best doubles players,” the Tennis Channel commentator said. “You’d think she’d make her way to the net more.”

That bit of strategic advice wasn’t in the cards for Safarova, though. Pliskova pounded her forehand side, pinning her to the baseline. At other moments, she’d send a crosscourt forehand or a down-the-line backhand whizzing past Lucie, leaving her flatfooted and without recourse.

“Anything half-hit is coming back from Pliskova with a little bit of interest,” the commentator said.

This is Pliskova’s sixth consecutive major where she has been seeded in the top 10. She first reached the top 10 in 2015 and seems destined to remain there as a threat to those who stand across the net from her. On Saturday that woman will be Maria Sharapova, who defeated Donna Vekic on Thursday, 7-5, 6-4.

Pliskova’s serve will be vital against the Russian. Last year Pliskova led the WTA in aces, whacking 452 over 68 matches. Aces and a high percentage of points won off first and second serves will keep Sharapova from implementing a strategy that will probably concentrate on forcing the Czech side to side and forcing her to come toward the net. One thing you can be sure of, though: Both women will compete at their highest levels for that day. It sounds corny and naive. However, as fans it’s all anyone can ask of them.

Image source – Jimmie 48

 

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