US OPEN 2016 – PLISKOVA SCALES THROUGH TOUGH WILLIAMS TEST
Before Monday afternoon at the US Open, 24-year-old Karolina Pliskova was perhaps best known as the only player in the Top 20 who had never reached a quarterfinal at a major.
Probably not the kind of distinction the tall Czech was aiming for.
Playing for the first time in Arthur Ashe Stadium, the biggest stage in all of tennis, Pliskova was already deeper than she’d ever been in a Slam: the fourth round. For a player of her stature – she reached a career-high ranking of 7 last year and has won six WTA singles titles – not to have progressed farther in a major was a serious void on her resume.
Seeking to get that monkey off her back, Pliskova was facing a legend: Venus Williams, playing her home Slam, which she had won twice. And who at age 36 was experiencing a late-career renaissance, back up to No. 6 in the world.
Pliskova looked tight from the start, awed by the arena and situation. “I was kind of nervous. It was not nervous like shaky,” admitted Pliskova later. “I knew was big match. Maybe if I win it, I’m in quarterfinals.”
Deep in the first set, Pliskova finally began to find her rhythm and play her way into the match.
If she was overwhelmed by nerves in the early going, Pliskova proved not to be when it counted the most. The late stages of the match may prove to be a turning point for this talented, previously underachieving pro.
Pliskova snatched the second set with fine clutch hitting and jumped out to a 4-2 lead in the deciding set. She squandered that advantage and faced a match point in the 10th game, down 4-5. The Czech player smacked a backhand within inches of both the baseline and sideline, and she valiantly crushed a swinging forehand volley for the winner to stay alive.
Pliskova served for the match at 6-5. She sprinted to a 40-0 lead, landing three match points on her racquet.
But she lost all three of them, as Venus cracked a series of winners, and her serve. Pliskova limped into the deciding tiebreak – the ultimate pressure cooker.
For her opponent, Venus Williams, the holder of seven Slams, pressure situations like this were nothing new.
For Pliskova, it was unchartered territory.
Rather than fold, Pliskova seized the moment. She put those blown match points, and the capacity crowd roaring for Williams, out of her mind. On her fifth match point of the day, Pliskova handcuffed Venus with a big serve to advance to her first career Slam quarterfinal.
Pliskova triumphed in the most pressure-filled moments of her career. “I couldn’t be just mad that I didn’t make it because I still had a chance to win the tiebreak,” said Pliskova of the wasted match points.
“In the end I was still saying to myself, I have to be aggressive, not be the one who is pushing. I was fighting with the nerves.”