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Pliskova confirming elite status with pitch-perfect Wimbledon run

Karolina Pliskova is one step from a maiden Grand Slam title for the first time in five years. But the Czech doesn’t need the title to confirm her elite status on the WTA Tour.

Karolina Pliskova 2021 Wimbledon Karolina Pliskova at Wimbledon in 2021 © AI / REUTERS / PANORAMIC

As she has aged, Karolina Pliskova has come to appreciate her place in women’s tennis, even if the Grand Slam title she has sought – and many expected her to win – has yet to become a part of her glowing resume.

On Thursday at Wimbledon, the 29-year-old Czech bolstered her reputation further by reaching her first Wimbledon final – and second the Grand Slams – with a magnificent display of power tennis against Aryna Sabalenka. Pliskova hammered 14 aces and connected on 13 forehand winners to power past the Belarusian, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4. She will face Ashleigh Barty for the title on Saturday at Wimbledon.

Coming of age and coming to grips with her status

Pliskova has been a top player for a long time on tour, and has even held the No 1 ranking for eight weeks. In fact, she is one of just three players to have held the WTA’s No 1 ranking (there are 27 in total) without also winning a Grand Slam, along with Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina. Earlier this week Pliskova told Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times that she is proud of her achievements, even if many seek to discredit her status due to the missing major title.

“I realized now, in the last two years, that even if I don’t win a Grand Slam, there are some girls that they win one and then they never win anything anymore — they are not even top 10, they can’t hold the level,” she told Rothenberg. “Honestly, I don’t know what’s better. And with age, I somehow appreciate the level which I’ve been able to hold more. Maybe that’s even more difficult than to just have an amazing two weeks once in life.”

This week at Wimbledon Pliskova may put the “Slamless No 1” talk to rest. She is one step from becoming the third Czech woman – along with Jana Novotna (1998) and Petra Kvitova (2011 and 2014) – to claim the Wimbledon women’s singles title.

It’s fitting, perhaps, that Pliskova’s breakout Wimbledon has happened just one week after she dropped out of the top-10 for the first time since 2016. The Czech’s long-term stay at that elite level, and her 16 career titles, say much more about her abilities than her current ranking of 13. She finished 2016 through 2020 inside the WTA’s top-5, and last year, slowed by the pandemic, dipped to No 6. Nothing to scoff at.

Pitch-Perfect power game

On Thursday she was close to flawless against the hard-hitting Sabalenka, and might have won in straight sets were it not for the Belarusian’s heroics while facing break point in the opening set. The No 2 seed, who entered the match with a 2-0 record against Pliskova, faced eight break points in set one and saved them all. She only missed her first serve on one of the eight, and cracked three aces.

She was rewarded for her efforts when Pliskova double-faulted on set point – really her only regrettable moment of a brilliant performance – to hand Sabalenka a one set to love lead.

Unstoppable down the stretch

Pliskova never blinked an eye after that difficult ending to the opening set, and gradually took over the match from there. She dropped just 10 points on serve in the final two sets as she reeled off ten consecutive service holds without facing a single break point.

She also won 18 of the 25 points that lasted more than four shots, establishing a dominance from the baseline that forced Sabalenka into going for too much too soon in rallies.

Fittingly, Pliskova closed the match with her 14th ace of the afternoon. There was no room for error in this match, given that Sabalenka was protecting her serve ferociously, and always on the edge of mounting a comeback.

Pliskova’s grace under pressure ultimately saw her through, and if she can summon the same level under pressure in the final against Barty, she’ll have a shot to claim a long awaited first major title.

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