by Kevin Craig
Mirjana Lucic-Baroni’s incredible story continued on Wednesday at the Australian Open as she defeated the 2016 US Open finalist Karolina Pliskova, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4, to reach her second career major semifinal.
“To me this is overwhelming. I will never, ever forget this day or the last couple of weeks,” Lucic-Baroni said.
It’s not just the second career semifinal for Lucic-Baroni, but it’s her first since 1999 when she was just 16 years old. As a teenager, many viewed Lucic-Baroni as the next big thing in women’s tennis, and that showed as she won her first WTA title and won the doubles title at the Australian Open before the age of 16.
Unfortunately, some injuries and issues in her personal life derailed her career for a few years, including a complete hiatus from tennis for a few years that saw her not compete in a single major from 2002 to 2010. Now, she is back on the court and will reach the Top 30 of the WTA rankings for the first time in her career after her run in Melbourne.
“This has truly made my life and everything bad that happened, it has made it OK,” Lucic-Baroni said.
The match started positively for Pliskova, a player who many believed would give Serena Williams issues in a potential semifinal matchup. The Czech saved a break point in her first service game, allowing her to relax and break Lucic-Baroni in the next game. The Croatian didn’t back down, though, as she came back to break twice, including in the final game of the set, to take a one-set lead.
The second set was back and forth as there were six breaks total, including two immediate exchanges of breaks. After the second exchange, Pliskova looked to have finally found her rhythm as she broke Lucic-Baroni two more times to eventually cruise to the second set win, evening up the match.
Another exchange of breaks started off the third set, meaning that Pliskova had now broken Lucic-Baroni five straight times. The 34-year old didn’t let that get her down, though, as she was able to break Pliskova again and took a 3-1 lead. Pliskova would break back a couple games later, but Lucic-Baroni had fate on her side.
With Pliskova serving at 4-4, Lucic-Baroni broke easily at love and followed that up with a comfortable hold to close out the match and earn her spot in the semifinals.
“I can’t believe this, this is crazy,” Lucic-Baroni said. “This is what I’ve been dreaming about. This is what I’ve been training for.”
Lucic-Baroni will take on 22-time major champion Serena Williams in the semifinals on Thursday. Williams will be hoping to set up an all-American final, or even an all-Williams final, as the other semifinal will see CoCo Vandeweghe take on Venus Williams.
Angelique Kerber won her second major title on Saturday at the US Open as she defeated Karolina Pliskova, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to claim the trophy in New York.
After winning the Australian Open in the beginning of the year, and now the US Open, Kerber became the first player other than Serena Williams to win two majors in one year since Justine Henin did so in 2007. This title for the German proves that she deserves the No. 1 ranking that she will receive on Monday.
“It means a lot to me. When I was a kid I was always dreaming to one day be the No. 1 player in the world. To win Grand Slams. And today is the day. I won my second Grand Slam here…I’m the No. 1 player on Monday, so it’s just amazing,” said Kerber. “All the dreams came true this year.”
Both players came into the final with loads of confidence, which goes without saying as both had won six matches in New York to get to this point. Kerber, though, was playing with the comfort in her mind that, win or lose, she would be the new No. 1 player in the world when the rankings come out on Monday.
Pliskova, on the other hand, made it past the third round of a major for the first time and was on an 11-match win streak that included her title in Cincinnati that saw her defeat Kerber in the final.
Pliskova, who hit 40 winners and 47 unforced errors in the match, got off to a shaky start, as expected in her first major final, and Kerber took advantage. A break in the opening game by Kerber was followed up by an impressive serving performance in the first set in which she saved all three break points that she faced. Already up a break at 5-3, the German was able to break again to take the set and put herself just one set away from her second major title.
The tables turned in the second set, though, as Pliskova massively raised her level. The Czech didn’t face a single break point in the set and was able to continuously pressure the serve of the 2016 Australian Open champion. Three of Kerber’s five service games in the set went to deuce, and one of the games that didn’t was the game in which Pliskova was able to break. That one break was all the No. 10 seed needed to level the match and forced a deciding third set.
“I just found in myself some power in the second set,” said Pliskova, who won 89 percent of her first serve points in the second set.
Pliskova continued to play at her high level in the third set, breaking Kerber early to get a crucial lead. After going down 3-1, though, Kerber was able to fight back and get back on serve, winning three games in a row to make it 4-3.
From that point forward, both players were playing at peak levels. Kerber was playing her steady game and hit virtually no errors in the latter stages of the match, while Pliskova was blasting the ball from all over the court.
Serving at 4-5, though, Pliskova began to falter, as she had in the opening set. Kerber capitalized on this brief lapse from the Czech and broke at love to close out the match and win her second major title.
“I was really trying to stay in the moment, trying to play my game and being aggressive. I was just really trying to enjoy the final,” said Kerber of her comeback in the third set.
After a stellar 2016 season that saw her win two major titles and reach the No. 1 spot in the rankings, Kerber has little left to prove to the tennis world at the age of 28.
“Just amazing. I won my second Grand Slam in one year. That’s the best year in my career. It’s actually just incredible…it means so much to me,” said Kerber. “Congrats to Karolina…the last few months you have played incredible. You are a tough opponent and for sure you have a great future.”
“Congrats to Angie, she really proved she’s the world No. 1. It was a great match and I’m very honored to play with you,” said Pliskova, who is just 24-years old. “Even though I couldn’t get the win I’m really proud of myself. I’m really happy the way I was playing the last three weeks and hopefully many more titles to come.”
by Kevin Craig
Serena Williams lost her semifinal at the US Open on Thursday to Karolina Pliskova, 6-2 7-6(5), but that may not be the most important thing she lost on Thursday. The 22-time major champion also lost her world No. 1 ranking for the first time since February of 2013 to Angelique Kerber of Germany.
“I’m not talking about No. 1,” said Williams in her post-match press conference. “I think Karolina played great today…I wasn’t at 100 percent but I also think she played well and she deserved to win today.”
Williams discussed having a knee injury that occurred after her second round match that had been hampering her movement around the court, but was gracious in defeat as she was able to give Pliskova the credit she deserves for winning the match.
Pliskova, from the Czech Republic, has now won 11 matches in a row. After winning the premier-level event in Cincinnati, the No. 11 player in the world has come into New York and won six matches. Her goal coming into the event was to reach the fourth round of a major for the first time, and she has been able to go three rounds further, all the way into the final.
“I said I don’t believe it…actually I do believe it. I always knew I had a chance to beat anyone if I am playing my game,” said Pliskova.
The first set was dominated by the 10th-seeded Pliskova, as she went two-for-three on break points and didn’t have to face one herself. After Williams fought off a break point to hold for 2-3, she was able to take Pliskova to deuce and almost turned the tables on the first set.
Pliskova, though, withstood the effort from the American to hold before breaking her at love in the next game for a 5-2 lead, and that momentum carried over into the next game as the Czech easily held to close out the first set.
“The serve today was the key why I won,” said Pliskova.
Thanks to her dominance on serve that saw seven aces and 84-percent of first serve points won, Pliskova was able to continuously apply pressure on the Williams serve, earning a break point in the opening game of the second set. The Czech didn’t convert at that time, but would convert a few games later to break Williams for a 3-2 lead.
In the very next game, though, Pliskova faltered for the first and only time in the match, allowing Williams to have a look at a 0-40 opportunity. The American would not miss out on this chance, capitalizing on the first break point to even up the set.
Straightforward holds took the set into a tiebreak after the exchange of breaks early on. After dropping the first set on serve, Williams was able to bounce back and win both of Pliskova’s service points later in the set to grab a 4-3 lead.
The American was unable to take advantage of this lead, though, and lost her next service point before ultimately grabbing a 5-4 lead and putting herself within two matches of forcing a deciding third set. From that point on, though, Pliskova was able to win the next three points, including a double fault on match point from Williams, giving the Czech the win and putting her in the final.
“This is something amazing and I’m really excited to be in the final, and especially to beat a player like this. Serena is a champion so it’s never easy to play her…it was very hard,” said Pliskova. “I had a goal today to beat Serena and that’s what I did…I don’t care who is there in the final.”
by Kevin Craig
The US Open has only been going on for a day and many top players have already packed their bags.
Ana Ivanovic, Karolina Pliskova, Carla Suarez Navarro, Jelena Jankovic, Sloane Stephens, and Svetlana Kuznetsova all bit the dust on Day 1 in New York, massively opening up the top half of the draw for Serena Williams, who now will not have to face a Top 10 player if she reached the final.
Ivanovic was coming off a good summer in which she made the quarterfinals in Toronto and Cincinnati, each time losing to the player that would go on to win the championship. After only a second round showing at last year’s US Open, she surely was disappointed to get one of the toughest draws of the tournament, Dominika Cibulkova. Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist, took the first set, but Ivanovic fought back and forced a deciding third set. The fight was not enough for the Serb, however, as Cibulkova held on and took the match 6-3 in the final set.
Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic also had a good summer, winning the US Open Series with a finals appearance in Stanford and a quarterfinal in New Haven. She would’ve been hoping to back up her third round appearance at last year’s US Open and prove her No. 8 seed this year, but she was completely outplayed by American qualifier Anna Tatishvili, who easily won 6-2 6-1. Pliskova’s 57% first serve percentage and only winning 40% of all her service points led to her bowing out in the first round.
The No. 10 seed Carla Suarez Navarro may be viewed as less of an upset as she had been on a six-match losing streak and had not won a match on a hard court since her run to the final in Miami, however she should’ve been favored over Denisa Allertova, ranked No. 76 in the world, who hadn’t played a match on a hard court since April. It appeared as though Allertova was the high-ranked veteran, as she was able to break serve four times and hold Suarez Navarro to only 40% points won on second serve, allowing her to garner the 6-1, 7-6(5) win.
Jelena Jankovic joined her fellow Serbian Ivanovic in exiting the US Open after only one match, losing to French wild card Oceane Dodin, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3. What looked like a comfortable victory quickly changed in the second set, as Dodin, 18 years old, broke late in the set and carried that momentum into the third. Dodin has been in good form, making the final of an ITF event only a couple weeks ago, but Jankovic will be massively disappointed with the result.
Sloane Stephens’ loss to Coco Vandeweghe is not much of an upset as both young Americans look to have bright careers ahead of them. While Stephens had been in good form, going 17-6 in her last 23 matches, she came up against the huge serve of Vandeweghe, who fired her way into the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 win. Though Vandeweghe didn’t face a single break point in this match, expect more great battles from these two in the years to come.
Young Kristina Mladenovic, more known for her doubles prowess, upended the two-time major champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-3, 7-5 on the opening day. The No. 30 seed had her powerful game stunted by the Frenchwoman, as she was broken five times.
While these six seeded women going out in the first round is a delight to see for Serena Williams, the draw may still be just as tough as it was to begin with. Though Serena won’t have to face any Top 10 players until the final, players like Madison Keys, Aga Radwanska, sister Venus Williams, and Belinda Bencic are still alive in the top half, while Vandeweghe may also be able to pose a threat to Serena and her shot at the calendar slam. Vandeweghe’s big serve and powerful groundstrokes could be dangerous for Serena if they meet in the third round.
The women’s US Open Series launches in California with one of the oldest tournaments in the WTA. In the tranquil setting of Stanford University, the Bank of the West Classic a particularly cozy and rewarding tournaments. Here is a look ahead at what to expect this week at Stanford and at the International event half a world away in Azerbaijan.
Top half: Rarely do Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka all spurn Stanford. Their absence this year offers world No. 4 Agnieszka Radwanska an opportunity as the only top-10 player in the draw. The top seed probably still can taste the bitter disappointment of a greater opportunity squandered at Wimbledon. Radwanska will seek to bounce back on a relatively fast hard court, where she has reached the semifinals before. She should reach that stage again with no pre-semifinal opponent more formidable than Varvara Lepchenko, just 2-9 away from clay this year. A potentially intriguing first-round match between youthful energy and veteran cunning pits Stanford alum Mallory Burdette against Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone.
Sandwiched between two unimpressive seeds, Madison Keys should showcase her power on a court suited to it. American fans will enjoy their glimpse of the woman who could become their leading threat to win a major in a few years. Keys will look to deliver an opening upset over eighth seed Magdalena Rybarikova en route to a possible quarterfinal against compatriot Jamie Hampton. Climbing into relevance with an Eastbourne final, Hampton holds the fourth seed and may face another Stanford alum in Nicole Gibbs. Hampton stunned Radwanska at Eastbourne last month, while Keys took a set from her at Wimbledon.
Semifinal: Radwanska vs. Keys
Bottom half: The third quarter features another unseeded American hopeful—and another Radwanska. Stanford’s depleted field allowed Agnieszka’s younger sister, Urszula, to snag the seventh seed, while Christina McHale looks for momentum on the long road back from mononucleosis. Still elegant as she fades, Daniela Hantuchova brings a touch of grace that should contrast with the athleticism of first-round opponent Yanina Wickmayer. Often a presence but rarely a threat at Stanford, third seed Dominika Cibulkova has not won more than two matches at any tournament since January.
The only US Open champion in the draw, Samantha Stosur might face a challenging test against Julia Goerges. This enigmatic German has won three of their four meetings, including both on hard courts, although the last three all have reached a third set. Of course, a 14-17 record in 2013 does not bode well for her chances of surviving Olga Govortsova in the first round. The road might not get any easier for Stosur in the quarterfinals, though, where she could meet Sorana Cirstea. A product of the Adidas training program in Las Vegas, Cirstea upset Stosur at last year’s Australian Open. None of the women in the lower half ever has reached a final at Stanford.
Semifinal: Cibulkova vs. Stosur
Final: Radwanska vs. Stosur
Top half: Not one of these women will hold a seed at the US Open unless their rankings rise between now and then. Holding the top seed is Bojana Jovanovski, who owes many of her poitns to a second-week appearance at the Australian Open. Jovanovski has two victories over Caroline Wozniacki but few over anyone else since then. Former junior No. 1 Daria Gavrilova and fellow Serb Vesna Dolonc offer her most credible competition before the semifinals.
At that stage, Jovanovski might meet Andrea Hlavackova, the runner-up in a similarly weak draw at Bad Gastein a week ago. Although she has fallen outside the top 100, meanwhile, Shahar Peer will hope to rely on her experience to stop either Hlavackova or third seed Chanelle Scheepers. The speed of the surface may determine whether a counterpuncher like Peer or Scheepers overcomes the heavier serve of fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Bottom half: Unheralded players from the home nation often play above expectations at small tournaments like Baku. Wildcard Kamilla Farhad, an Azerbaijani citizen, will hope to echo Yvonne Meusberger’s astonishing title run in Bad Gastein. Surrounding her are clay specialist Alexandra Cadantu and the stagnating Polona Hercog. A tall Slovenian, the later woman seems the best equipped to win on hard courts from this section. Cadantu will need to blunt the explosive serve of Michaella Krajicek to survive her opener.
The 18-year-old Elina Svitolina showed promise in Bad Gastein by reaching the semifinals. That experience will have served her well heading into another International event with an open draw. She even holds a seed here, as does another rising star in Donna Vekic. Nearly two years younger than Svitolina, Vekic already has reached two WTA finals. A quarterfinal between the two teenagers might offer a preview of more momentous matches in the future.
Final: Pliskova vs. Vekic
The sunny island of Sicily hosts the more notable of the two small women’s tournaments in the week after Wimbledon. Palermo will host both of the leading Italian stars, who eye one more chance to capitalize on their best surface.
Top half: Bounced from Wimbledon in the first round, Sara Errani returns gratefully to clay after a one-match grass season. The world No. 6 took a wildcard into one of her home tournaments, where she has won two titles. In search of her second 2013 title defense, Errani can look ahead to a second-round meeting with fiery Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova. Two other clay specialists join her in a section filled with hyphenated names. Mariana Duque-Marino impressed with her shot-making during a tight loss to Marion Bartoli at Roland Garros, while Silvia Soler-Espinosa has become a fixture of Spain’s Fed Cup team.
Neither of the most intriguing players in the second quarter has a seed next to her name. Two of the Italians in this section emerged from irrelevance at Wimbledon and will hope to dazzle their compatriots. Both Flavia Pennetta and Karin Knapp reached the second week on grass, their least effective surface, despite rankings outside the top 100. The evergreen Anabel Medina Garrigues, who bageled Serena Williams in Madrid, could meet Pennetta or Knapp in the quarterfinals. Much less intriguing are the two Czech seeds, Klara Zakopalova and Karolina Pliskova. Still, Zakopalova reached the second week at Roland Garros last year, for the slow conditions suited her counterpunching style.
Bottom half: Unfortunate to draw Maria Sharapova in her Wimbledon opener, Kristina Mladenovic gained some consolation by winning the mixed doubles title with Daniel Nestor. Almost overnight, she travels to Palermo as the third seed. Mladenovic will have some breathing room as she adjusts from one surface to another, situated in an especially forgiving section. Young French star Caroline Garcia might face Irina-Camelia Begu in a second-round contrast of styles. A quarterfinal between Garcia and Mladenovic could offer some insight onto the future of women’s tennis in France after Bartoli.
Second seed Roberta Vinci joined Pennetta and Knapp in the second week of Wimbledon but struggled in the first week and fell heavily to Li Na. All the same, Vinci remains within striking distance of the top 10 at the age of 31 while continuing to shine in doubles with Errani. This Italian veteran could meet Wimbledon surprise Eva Birnerova, who almost reached the second week as well. The canny Lourdes Dominguez Lino then would confront Vinci in a battle of traditional clay specialists.
Final: Errani vs. Vinci
Top half: The Hungarian Grand Prix does not look particularly grand this year with not a single entrant from the top 25. Leading the pack is Lucie Safarova, whose 2013 campaign has lurched from signs of hope to unmitigated disasters. Safarova has defeated Samantha Stosur twice this year and reached a clay semifinal in Nurnberg, but she won one total match at three more important clay events in Stuttgart, Madrid, and Paris. Ripe for an upset, she might fall victim to the promising Petra Martic. Despite a horrific start to 2013, Martic recaptured some of her form at the challenger level and reached the third round of Wimbledon, where she won a set from Tsvetana Pironkova. South African No. 1 Chanelle Scheepers holds the other seed in this section.
Doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka will look to bomb her way through a section that includes young German star Annika Beck. The fourth seed in Budapest, Beck reached a quarterfinal and a semifinal at International events on clay earlier this year. Perhaps she will have gained inspiration from her compatriot Lisicki’s breakthrough at Wimbledon. Lara Arruabarrena won a challenger earlier this year and gained attention for reaching the fourth round of Indian Wells, where she upset Vinci. The 80th-ranked Spaniard will hope to outlast erratic fifth seed Johanna Larsson with her consistency.
Bottom half: Probably the favorite for the title, third seed Simona Halep seeks to extend a ten-match winning streak at non-majors. Even before that romp through Nurnberg and s’Hertogenbosch, Halep reached the semifinals at the Premier Five event in Rome. That quality passage of play should have primed her for a deep run in Budapest, although the heavy serve of home hope Timea Babos could pose an intriguing threat. Seventh seed Maria Teresa Torro-Flor would meet Babos before Halep, hoping to build on clay victories over Francesca Schiavone and Daniela Hantuchova this spring.
Finishing the clay season in style, Alize Cornet won a title in Strasbourg and took a set from Victoria Azarenka in Paris. She will look to rebound from a massive collapse against Pennetta at Wimbledon against Hradecka’s doubles partner, Andrea Hlavackova. The faded Shahar Peer joins an alumnus of the Chris Evert Tennis Academy, Anna Tatishvili, elsewhere in the section.
Final: Unseeded player vs. Halep
KATOWICE (April 12, 2013) — Friday at the BNP Paribas Katowice Open quarterfinals saw the remaining two seeds, No. 1 Petra Kvitova and No. 2 Roberta Vinci, get by their respective opponents, Petra Martic and Karolina Pliskova. Young German Annika Beck defeated qualifier Maria Elena Camerin and reached her first WTA semifinal with a second set bagel. Similarly, qualifier Alexandra Cadantu rallied back to defeat lucky loser Shara Peer in three tight sets.
All ladies’ quarterfinal action in the gallery below by Tennis Grandstand photographer Rick Gleijm.
The tennis world has long been familiar with sibling acts in the both the ATP and WTA. First it was the McEnroe brothers, followed by the (three) Maleeva sisters. Next came the Williams sisters and Bryan twins, followed the the Bondarenkos and the Radwanskas. Often times, one sibling sees considerably more success than the other. John McEnroe is in the Hall of Fame, while Patrick only won one singles title in his career. Kim Clijsters’ sister, Elke, played less than two years of professional tennis before retiring due to persistent injuries. She peaked at No. 483. Agnieszka Radwanska has been a mainstay in the WTA top 10 for the past five years, but her sister Urszula couldn’t even break into the top 50 in the world until July of 2012.
In total, seven sets of sisters have won titles together in professional tennis. The leaders, of course, are the Williams sisters, with 21 doubles titles and 13 grand slams. The Bondarenko sisters are a distant second, as they took home three titles; they join the Williams sisters as the only other major winners with a 2008 Australian Open title. Agnieszka and Urzsula Radwanska, Hao-Ching and Yung-Jan Chan, Katerina and Manuela Maleeva, Cammy and Cynthia MacGregor, Adriana and Antonella Serra Zanetti all own one doubles title together.
While there have been immense numbers of successful sisters (say that five times fast) on the WTA, there was never a set of twins. Until now.
Enter Karolina and Kristyna Pliskova. Each plays a similar game, centered around a huge serve and attacking tennis. Movement, to put it mildly, is neither one’s strength. Like the Bryans, you could once only tell them apart by their handedness. Both had tremendous junior careers, but struggled to translate that success onto the senior circuit. Karolina, the righty, was the 2010 Australian Open junior champion; Kristyna, the lefty, joined her sister in the junior slam champion club at Wimbledon in the same year. For a while, the identical twins seemed to be following identical career paths.
For the record, Karolina is now a brunette while Kristyna is a blonde.
Karolina Pliskova had already racked up four ITF singles titles by May of 2010, while Kristyna was still looking for her first. Then, the two faced off in the finals of a 50K ITF event in Kurume, Japan which Kristyna eventually won 5-7, 6-2, 6-0. Two years after her twin, Kristyna finally entered the senior winners’ circle. In fact, the two have already played seven times on the senior circuit in their young careers; Karolina holds a slim 4-3 advantage, with the most recent win, a 76(11) 76(6) triumph, coming in the finals of a 25K ITF event in Grenoble, France in January of 2012.
Despite having more overall success, Karolina ended 2012 ten spots behind her sister in the rankings; the end of Kristyna’s year was buoyed by a second round showing at the US Open. She qualified and defeated Julia Goerges in the second round for the Pliskova family’s best career win before losing to Mandy Minella. Karolina lost in the second round of qualifying in Flushing Meadows to Donna Vekic.
That’s all changed in 2013, as Karolina has begun to considerably outpace her twin; this run was highlighted by her first WTA title in Kuala Lumpur in March. The unseeded Pliskova defeated fifth-seeded Misaki Doi and fourth-seeded Ayumi Morita before defeating Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the final, a match in which she rallied from a 6-1 first set blowout. On the other side, Kristyna came into Kuala Lumpur as the eighth-seed, but crashed out to Kazakh qualifier Zarina Diyas in the first round. Krystina peaked at No. 86 in the rankings in January, but is now back outside the top 100. Karolina passed her sister’s career high last week, and currently sits at No. 81.
That gulf will no doubt widen after this week in Katowice. Karolina is in the quarterfinals in singles, having defeated Maria-Teresa Torro Flor and fifth-seed Kaia Kanepi en route. She’ll face off against second-seed Roberta Vinci on Friday. Kristyna lost to the No. 3 seed, Klara Zakopalova, in the opening round. The pair, who’ve shown prowess in doubles as well, were knocked out in the doubles quarterfinals on Thursday after defeating top-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld and Janette Husarova.
Both twins turned professional in 2009 and it’s taken them until now to each make a name for themselves on the WTA. However, it remains to be seen if one, or both, can take the Pliskova family name to the top.