Bang it up: Pliskova vs Kvitova, and Isner vs A. Zverev

It’s all about the quarters in Madrid. Eight matches, women and men, so if you get to go and watch, leave early, very early, and stay late, because if you want to catch all of them. You will see at least two terrific matches. Or all of them.  

In Madrid on Friday, there are two fascinating contests, Karolina Pliskova versus Petra Kvitova, and John Isner versus Alexander Zverev. The WTA women will start first, and Pliskova and Kvitova have been playing extremely well over the past two weeks. They are both big hitters, forehands and backhands, and they hustle. They are very strong physically, but even though they are faster than they used to be, but they aren’t exactly speedy. However, Pliskova has a massive first serve, and Kvitová’s is pretty good, too, with her speedy first serve and a good kicker. 

Kvitova is determined to win another Grand Slam. She has two, at Wimbledon, but not at Roland Garros. Pliskova has yet to win a major, but she has come close. But on clay? Both of them have put together some great wins, on the hardcourts and the grass. Maybe they are finally changing their clay court games and figuring out better tactics. 

On Thursday, Pliskova ended No. 1 Simona Halep run with a 6-4 6-3 win. That was extremely impressive. Listen to this: “My forehand was working. I think I played one of my best matches this year for sure, and for sure on clay in my life,” Pliskova said. 

The two Czechs are good friends so they know each other up and down. Is it a tossup, on clay? Possibly, but Pliskova is a slight favorite to win.

It’s a rematch between Isner versus Zverev. At the beginning of April, Isner beat Zverev 6-7(4) 6-4 6-4 for the Miami title on a hardcourt. It was the best tournament, ever for John. The very tall man is older, and Zverev is 12 years younger.

But now, everyone is playing on clay. Zverev has won three clay courts, in Munich (twice) and at the ATP Masters 1000 Rome last year. That was huge, because almost a year ago, in Italy, he beat Isner in the semis and Novak Djokovic in the final. He was saying afterwards that he had a legitimate chance to win Roland Garros. But in the first round, Zverev was very frustrated, a little bit nervous, and he could not contain himself, losing in four sets to Fernando Verdasco. He was ticked off.

But the 21-year-old keeps on churning. This month, and next month, he has to be stoical, in Madrid, Rome and RG. Look at Rafa Nadal. On clay, he always grinds, he rarely gets mad when he is a little off. He changes, he mixes it up, he doesn’t just wail away when he cannot keep the ball inside the lines. The German Zverev is ranked No. 3, his forehand and backhand are immense, but his returns are marginal. I am sure they will get better, gradually, but it will take time. 

When he faces Isner again, at least he can return on clay, at least during the second serves. The same goes with the American Isner, who has slightly improved his returns over the past 10 years. Isner has improved his backhand, which is stronger and harder. Of course, he has a huge first serve, delivering ace after ace, to compliment his monumental forehand. When he gets to the net, and he is right on top of it, he can put it away.

Isner has won just one clay court tournament, in Houston, in 2013. Good for him, but the ATP Masters bring all the best players. To win it here, that would be surprising. However, he is much more confident now than he was a couple months ago. He is into it again. Still, Zverev is the favorite, if he doesn’t smash his racket and throw it out of the stadium. 

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