China Open: Pliskova peaking at the perfect time

Published by Matt Trollope

Karolina Pliskova celebrates her second-round win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich at the China Open; Getty Images
With a spot in the WTA Finals field at stake, Karolina Pliskova is hitting form at just the right time. On Wednesday, she cruised into the last 16 at the China Open.

On a tour where players’ form and fortunes are fluctuating wildly, is Karolina Pliskova playing the best, most consistent tennis of anyone?

Aryna Sabalenka and Naomi Osaka might have something to say about that. But in truth, few WTA players have hit their stride in the manner Pliskova has in the past month.

The clean-hitting Czech has won 10 of her past 12 matches, the most recent of those a straight-sets dismissal of Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Wednesday at the China Open. That win put her into the last 16 where she will face another in-form force – local star Wang Qiang.

“I feel better actually now than I was feeling in the middle of the season on my clay and grass (tournaments),” she told Tennismash.

“It’s last few weeks so it’s also that I know that there is not much tennis left after (laughter) so I just try to do the best and put everything (into) what I have left. Also enjoying my team so far – having fun off court, on court as well, practice, which is important. I just want to try to make it to Singapore and that’s it, that’s my goal for this year.”

The qualification scenarios are tight. Pliskova is vying for one of the five remaining slots at the WTA Finals, and can reach the elite eight-player field if she wins this week in Beijing. But even if she doesn’t triumph in the Chinese capital, she will remain in the hunt with a deep run. And there are a few more tournaments still to come should she need to make a last-minute scramble for valuable points.

Working out how deep she needs to go at tournaments and how many points she needs to earn – a stressful exercise which she admits she’s not undertaking – will be a moot point if she continues to play the way she is.

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The world No.7 reached the quarterfinals of the US Open and two weeks later won the Pan Pacific Open title in Tokyo to reignite a 2018 campaign that looked extremely positive through Madrid before a lean mid-season stretch.

Re-jigging her team has also proved a masterstroke, injecting that aforementioned sense of fun. Pliskova recently began working with a new physiotherapist and during the North American summer reunited with former doubles world No.1 Rennae Stubbs, whom she worked with during last year’s Asian swing.

“I think she’s very positive – all Australians are quite positive,” Pliskova smiled. “So it’s about just to have fun on the court and also to improve some things, but little things, not big changes, because I’m still playing matches.

“(Things like) second serve, maybe approach to the net, to go (in) more often, which she wants. It’s tough to change those things… especially in my situation that I fight for Singapore, it’s just tough to go to the net more often right now. So I think there’s gonna be more time and more things on which we’re gonna work in the off season.

“I was playing well actually last few weeks so there’s not any reason to change like big things. It’s about to keep the focus on the concentration, and she’s like I said pretty positive about this.”

So what is it about the WTA Finals that has Pliskova so motivated to cement her place in the field?

Immediately obvious is the fact it offers one of the richest prize pools in tennis. There is a high level of prestige given it is only open to the world’s top eight. There’s a legendary honour roll of champions, and the glamour of host city Singapore.

But for the Czech, qualifying for the season-ending championship is proof of a rewarding, satisfying season.

“Doesn’t mean the season was bad if you don’t make it, because you can be No.9, which is still pretty good,” Pliskova said.

“I think for me it’s every year special. Every year in the beginning of the year it’s my goal, because you have to have some good results, not only one tournament or just two weeks. You have to play consistently well throughout the year. Which is sometimes tough, to play all year pretty solid.

“But so far, my last three, four years I’m pretty good at this, actually to be solid. Two years in a row I made it. This year it’s pretty close (laughter) so hopefully I’m gonna be there.”

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