Volume. It is not a sexy word or a competitive virtue which immediately jumps off the page. Yet, it matters a lot in elite athletic endeavors. Just ask Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty how important it is. The two women can speak to the importance of volume before their Miami Open women’s singles final on Saturday in Miami Gardens.
Pliskova made her way to the final by beating Simona Halep in the semifinals on Thursday night, while Barty advanced to the final by beating Anett Kontaveit earlier in the evening. This will be the first Premier Mandatory final for both players. They had to absorb a lot of losses before reaching this new height in their careers.
The lesson about volume emerges when you consider recent career trajectories for both women — Barty more in 2019, Pliskova more over the past three years.
Now, Barty and Pliskova have taken another step in these evolutionary journeys. Volume was their friend.
Barty beat Kontaveit in the semis, but she got there by beating Petra Kvitova for the first time in five meetings. Yes, Kvitova is a better tennis player than Barty, but part of life on tour involves the reality that if one reasonably accomplished player keeps meeting another opponent, s/he will eventually break through.
NOBODY BEATS ASHLEIGH BARTY FIVE TIMES IN A ROW, to borrow from the iconic quote from Vitas Gerulaitis about Jimmy Connors.
David Ferrer might not have beaten Roger Federer yet, but in most cases, playing another really good opponent invites the possibility that on one day, eventually, the player with a matchup disadvantage will break through. The opponent might flinch — as Kvitova did late in the first set — or the grind of tour life might create a situation in which the normally disadvantaged player might be mentally fresher. More meetings create more chances to snag a win.
Barty used this larger reality of volume to help her.
Pliskova has done the same thing against Halep.
Pliskova lost seven of the first nine matches she played against Halep, whose speed and court coverage were able to extend points, create longer rallies, and fashion a match with contours that favored the Romanian.
Yet, Pliskova — by going deep into important tournaments (quarterfinals or better) on a relatively consistent basis — has earned more reunions with Halep. She has won two of the last three matchups, and in Miami, Halep was far from her best. To Halep’s great credit, she made the semifinals without playing her best, but it remained that she was vulnerable.
Pliskova pounced on Thursday night. Volume helped her.
Volume helped Pliskova in this respect as well: Entering Thursday’s semifinal against Halep, Pliskova had made eight semifinals of important tournaments — majors, Premier Mandatory, Premier 5, WTA Finals — over the past two-plus seasons dating back to the 2017 Australian Open.
Pliskova was 0-8 in those eight semifinals.
She was bound to win one if she kept getting back to the semis.
Pliskova was also bound to reach a higher level in Miami and/or Indian Wells. She reached the quarters or better in each of her last six IW-or-Miami appearances, three in each location. That level of consistency invited the possibility that if she kept knocking on the door, she would eventually knock the door down.
Volume is what Roger Federer has used so many times to boost his career achievements. The 23 straight major semifinals and 36 straight major quarterfinals made Federer a constant presence late in important tournaments. From that level of exposure to semifinals and quarterfinals comes the simple reality that Federer — or anyone else who is reaching that many quarters or semis — is likely to make some finals. From that pile of finals, several tournaments are likely to be won.
Federer — as I never tire of saying — is the Jack Nicklaus of tennis. Nicklaus not only won more golf majors than anyone else; he finished in the top four dozens of additional times. That reality of almost always being in the top four meant that while Nicklaus wouldn’t win most of the time, he would win often enough to add to his elite trophy case.
Volume, volume, volume.
The Fed is not just a monetary concern for economists; he is an example of how volume works in tennis. Karolina Pliskova and Ash Barty can see why this concept is important in Miami.
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