Karolina Pliskova: ‘Maybe the pressure is a little bit bigger’

FROM TORONTO, THE ROGERS CUP, WEDNEDAY, AUGUST 9: Karolina Pliskova is now No. 1. But she hasn’t won a Grand Slam yet, the monkey also on the back Caroline Wozniacki who went years with that notorious distinction.

Obviously, this situation can be awkward, because she has come close to winning the major, like last year at the US Open, when she lost against Angie Kerber, 6-4 in the third. She didn’t choke, but she hesitated, and she got a little bit nervous, and she backed off.

Pliskova is so much more consistent now. Three years ago, when she wasn’t playing well, she would check in and out. Now, she is composed and can keep her flat shots in the court. Her consistency has increased and she can mix it up, deep and very short, and on the lines.

“I feel more experienced now,” she said.

This season, she has been pretty good, but not great. She won Brisbane, but then she lost in the quarters against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the Aussie Open. She won Doha, beating Wozniacki. At Roland Garros, she reached the semis, but then she went down to Simona Halep in three sets. On grass, she won Eastbourne, taking down Wozniacki. At Wimbledon, in the second round, she lost to Magdalena Rybarikova. Bye-bye.

“Everything still the same,” Pliskova asked about being No. 1. “Still going out for practices and still want to win every match. So, maybe the pressure is a little bit bigger, but that’s normal, you know. So, just counting with that and nothing has changed.”

She will play against Naomi Osaka on Thursday.


Wozniacki and her close friend Aga Radwanska will face off on Thursday. They have played each other 16 times, with the Danish being a little bit better, up 10-6. In 2016, Wozniacki beat her in Tokyo, 6-4 in the third. In Wuhan and Beijing, Radwanska was the victor. In 2017 in February, Caro beat Aga in Doha. Last year, they were both pretty hurt but are in much better shape now. We say it’s 50-50 between there fantastic friends on Thursday.

Venus Williams will go up against Elina Svitolina tomorrow night. Venus came pretty close to winning Wimbledon again, but she is getting slower. While her first serve and backhand are phenomenal, her problematic forehand is still up and down. She is better than Svitolina. Maybe Venus is looking to grab the No. 5 spot from Svitolina. … Garbiñe Muguruza was so-so last week, but she is incredibly confident. She can still get too frustrated. Can she win Toronto and the US Open? Maybe, but first off, she has to face Australian Ashleigh Barty who is getting better and better. … Sloane Stephens is back, upsetting Kvitova 76 36 62. She was out for nine months but returned at Wimby and now showing constituency and strength again.

The women: Who can actually win the women’s RG trophy?

NOTE: Before we printed here, we decided to hold off until Sunday night, assuming most of them top players will win anyway. Some did not. The No. 1 Angie Kerber lost, as did Roberta Vinci. Within seconds, everything change. 

1st quarter
How about Petra Kvitova? She has won two Slams, but at the end of last year, two crazy people came into her house, attacked her and ran way. It has taken a long time to recover, but now she is back because she just wants to play tennis. Even if her body isn’t healthy, at least she can walk on the court and hit the heck out of the ball. That makes her happy.

On Sunday here, she took out Julia Boserup in straight sets. And she cried again — happy. 

Can she win it? I doubt it, although a few years ago, she reached the semis at RG But, she is so enthusiastic that she could reach the second week. And then?

Caro Wozniacki has never liked clay over the past decade. At RG, the former No. 1 can get extremely upset when she cannot hit the lines and slide all over the place. She could reach the third round, but then she will likely have to play against Kiki Bertens, who just won Nuremberg. The Netherlander will out-run the frustrated Wozniacki. 

Sam Stosur also just won a small tournament at Strasbourg, beating another Aussie, Daria Gavrilova, in three tight sets. Stosur has reached the final at RG before, and the veteran believes that she can dominate with her heavy forehand. She might have to play against Kvitova in the third round. They know each other well and without a doubt, it should be a classic. 
The No. 8 Sveta Kuznetova has won RG before and even though she is up and down, she knows how to grind her opponents down. If she reaches the second week, watch out. 

Second quarter
The defending champion Garbiñe Muguruza can be destructive on clay. But, in the past year, she has been upset much too often, gets hurt all the time and doesn’t understand why she isn’t perfect. That’s why she hasn’t won a tournament since then. Will she get on a roll? Well, at least she reached the semis at Rome, beating Venus Williams in the quarters. Against Elina Svitolina, she retired, hurt, believe it or not. Can she rise in rebellion? Perhaps, but she has to stop thinking that her legs will fail her. 

Kristina Mladenovic has advanced this year, but the Frenchwoman has to deal with RG, which is difficult because the entire world will be watching her. She is a tremendous hitter, and she is quicker than she used to be, but on court on Paris, you have to lock it in and don’t listen to the crowds who are yelling for you. If she does, she can actually reach the semis — or even the final. And then … exactly what?

The super veteran Venus Williams has never won Roland Garros, but she has come close, and this time, while she is aging, she is very smart. However, she is a little slow now; so the only way she can go super deep is going to the net once in a while and attack at the net. She won her first round on Sunday, and she might have to face a true grinder in Daria Gavrilova in the third round. She might also have to face Dominika Cibulkova in the fourth round, assuming the Slovak gets her game back on track. 

Third quarter
After winning Rome, Svitolina now she has a real chance to go far at RG. The No. 5 has never gone deep at the Grand Slams, but it is time. There will be pressure, but she has the tools. She might have to face the tough Croatian Ana Konjuh in the third round, and maybe Madison Keys in the fourth … if the struggling American manages to best No. 17 Ana Sevastova. Tossup.

After Simona Halep won Madrid, it looked like the Romanian was ready to roll. Then she reached the final at Rome, and ka-boom, she got hurt, pretty seriously, and now it’s impossible to tell whether she will retire this week. So, if Halep gets better quickly, then she could actually win it all. But, if she can’t, she could lose in the third round, against another young player, the Russian Daria Kasatkina.    

Fourth quarter
I have always thought that Karolina Pliskova is going to win a major. The Czech just crushes the ball on her forehand and her backhand, plus her first serve is gigantic. But she is so up and down, and on clay, the No. 3 slips a lot and she can’t recover. Without a doubt, though, she is smarter and faster that she used to be.
There is only one other player in this quarter who has played on very well clay this year: not Aga Radwanska, not CoCo Vandeweghe, not Lauren Davis, not Johanna Konta and not Carolina Garcia.

It’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who has played much better than last year. She won Monterrey over Garcia and Kerber; and then, she won Rabat. She lost two three-setters early in Madrid and Rome, but once she gets there, the 25-year-old will push as hard as she can. The Russian isn’t fast, but she can find the lines with her forehand and backhands. She could actually reach the semis. Imagine that.