This will seem like a column in which I make the case that Karolina Pliskova better win this year’s U.S. Open… but the reality is more complicated than that.
No, Pliskova doesn’t HAVE to win this tournament. It is too early in her career to say that. It is too difficult to imagine what the 2020 WTA season will look like. Women’s tennis is much too fluid to close doors for top women’s players. Look at Barbora Strycova, who made her first Wimbledon and major semifinal at age 33 in July.
Everything is constantly changing. Pliskova might get a few very good looks at a major title next year.
Here’s the thing with Pliskova before the 2019 U.S. Open begins: Not knowing the future includes not knowing if the WTA will change in ways which will make it harder for Pliskova to thrive.
You know this by now: 12 different women have made major semifinals this year. Whether you think it is pure chaos or magnificent diversity; unwelcome randomness or tremendous and laudable balance; fragility or immense depth, this much is clear: Women’s tennis is and has been wide open in 2019.
There has been no dominant top player. There has not been a brick wall who stops other elite competitors. Every tournament is a chance for a new start and a breakthrough: Ask Madison Keys and Svetlana Kuznetsova in Cincinnati.
Ashleigh Barty has been the best women’s tennis player of 2019, but not by an overwhelmingly large margin. The U.S. Open could (not will — COULD) determine the best WTA player of the year. So much is up for grabs. Pliskova can step into this reality and finally walk away with her first major title.
In 2018, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep won first major titles, both after their 26th birthdays. Pliskova could join that group, ending a long wait to finally achieve what every elite player strives for. The urgency of the quest is undeniable, but tennis players have to remember that if they fall short one time, there is usually a next chance.
This is one way in which tennis is different from team sports. A team sport spends one season chasing the championship, be it in the English Premier League, the NFL, the NBA, NHL, or Major League Baseball. The season arrives at its crescendo, and a team either wins or loses the championship. That’s it.
Tennis gives players four separate chances to make history and grab a career-defining accomplishment. Pliskova and her peers will have a chance to win a major at the 2020 Australian Open if this U.S. Open doesn’t become a fortnight of glory in New York.
There will be other chances.
Yet, Pliskova and other older WTA players without major titles (think Kiki Bertens) have to realize that while an unpredictable tour is likely to persist into 2020, what if someone (or someones, plural) becomes a reliable stopper at the majors, someone who makes three major semifinals and two finals in the same year?
What if a player emerges from this portrait of parity to become a terminator who dashes dreams?
The shifting sands of tennis tell us that nothing is certain in the women’s game. This fluidity and lack of clarity could play to Karolina Pliskova’s advantage. Yet, if Ash Barty or Naomi Osaka — or Simona Halep, or any of several other players — find a higher gear in 2020 and beyond, this U.S. Open will be seen retroactively as a time when opportunity was still there for the taking.
No one knows what the future holds… and that’s why the power of now is profound for Karolina Pliskova.