Heading into Wimbledon last year, Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova were the two biggest favourites for the title. Pliskova had won in Eastbourne, a week after Kvitova had triumphed at Birmingham.
With a first-strike style anchored by big serves and hard, flat power from the baseline, their games are tailor-made for grass. Further proof of this is Kvitova’s two Wimbledon titles.
Yet both flamed out in the second round at the All England Club. Now, less than a year on, the top-10 duo have established themselves as the game’s two in-form clay-court players.
It’s a strange scenario, even to them.
Karolina Pliskova & Petra Kvitova don't really like red clay. Fact.
Karolina Pliskova & Petra Kvitova are on a 8-match W streak on red clay. Fact.
Karolina Pliskova won 14 of her last 16 matches on red clay. Petra Kvitova 10 of her last 12. Fact.
Don't mess with ????????. Fact. pic.twitter.com/j5wm0Glbfh
— Diego Barbiani (@Diego_Barbiani) May 9, 2018
“I’m still surprised with my results on clay,” Pliskova said after stunning world No.1 and reigning champion Simona Halep in the Madrid Open quarterfinals on Thursday.
“I think I played one of my best matches this year for sure, and for sure on clay in my life.”
Kvitova added: “I’m already pretty satisfied with my performance on the clay: in Prague, here, in the Fed Cup. I’m enjoying it. I will try to continue it tomorrow, but I know how tough it will be.”
It will be indeed be tough, because Kvitova will pit her nine-match winning run against Pliskova – riding an identical streak – at the Caja Magica in a blockbuster all-Czech semifinal.
Somewhat bizarrely, for two players who have spent a great deal of time in the top 10, they’ve barely come face-to-face in a competitive match; their second and most recent battle came in the Sydney International final more than three years ago.
Kvitova on clay has been a revelation in 2018. She has won 11 of her past 12 matches on the surface, including two against Germany in Fed Cup play.
She has won her last nine, a run taking in her Prague title and her trip to the last four in Madrid. During her winning streak she has dropped just two sets.
Pliskova has posted almost exactly the same figures, relinquishing just two sets in nine wins; it’s a streak that delivered her the indoor clay-court title in Stuttgart before a trip to the Madrid semis.
“It’s always just one winner, so one of us will end the streak,” Kvitova said.
Petra Kvitova’s streak of 24 consecutive wins against fellow Czechs was recently snapped @VolvoCarOpen by: Kristyna Pliskova.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) May 10, 2018
Kvitova leads the head-to-head 2-0; her 7-6(5) 7-6(6) win in the 2015 Sydney final was preceded by a three-set victory over the younger Czech in Wuhan in 2014.
And the left-hander, despite not being what you’d describe as a natural clay-courter, has nevertheless notched some impressive results on the red dirt over the years, including Madrid titles in 2011 and 2015 and a run to the Roland Garros semifinals in 2012.
Yet it’s perhaps Pliskova, a semifinalist in Paris last year, who has impressed more people with her performances on clay in 2018. In her last three matches in Madrid she has overcome a trio of stellar opponents – Halep, Sloane Stephens and Victoria Azarenka – and en route to the title in Stuttgart she upended reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Martina Navratilova, in a column for wtatennis.com, believes Pliskova’s power remains a huge weapon on clay, while her height makes an excellent serve even tougher for opponents.
“The bounce on clay is also ideal for her groundstrokes, as she likes the ball a bit higher in her strike zone,” the 18-time major champion observed.
“Clay is slow enough to allow her to get set for her shots, but fast enough that she can make use of her power and hit through people.
“The way Pliskova plays, she’s going to hit her share of winners. If the ratio between winners and unforced errors is good enough, she should win a huge majority of her matches.”
Yet with Kvitova standing at a similar height to her compatriot and possessing similar weapons, and perhaps even more power, Navratilova’s comments could equally apply to her.
We’ll see who comes out firing best, and who ultimately extends their clay-court winning streak to 10, when they clash on Friday night in the Spanish capital.
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