Karolina Pliskova the No 1 slayer: First Serena Williams, now Angelique Kerber in her sights at US Open final

Having defeated the reigning No 1, Pliskova now looks to beat Angelique Kerber, the woman who will be taking over the No 1 rankings on Monday after Serena’s 186 consecutive weeks at the top.
Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic celebrates after defeating Serena Williams at the US Open. Don Emmert / AFP
Karolina Pliskova of Czech Republic celebrates after defeating Serena Williams at the US Open. Don Emmert / AFP

• Karolina Pliskova (CZE x10) v Angelique Kerber (GER x2), midnight

The spirit of New York has done it again.

Last year, Flavia Pennetta, 33 and ranked No 26, flourished in the Land of Opportunity by reaching the final of a major for the first time in 52 attempts and then finishing her tennis career with a grand slam crown. In her 51 previous visits to the grand slams, the Italian had reached the semis once, at the 2013 US Open.

This year, the spirit of New York has possessed Karolina Pliskova.

Until now, the big-serving Czech, who had climbed to No 7 in the rankings last August, has been a grand slam mystery of sorts, never progressing beyond the third round in 17 main draw appearances despite boasting one of the most fearsome serves on the WTA Tour.

• More: Men’s semifinals order of play

In three previous main draw appearances at Flushing Meadows, Pliskova, 24, had lost twice in the first round and had a 2-3 win-loss record.

Now, she is in Saturday’s final. And, like Roberta Vinci 12 months ago, she has stunned world No 1 Serena Williams (6-2, 7-6) in the semis to get there.

“For me, I think the most important step was to get through to the fourth round,” Pliskova said on Thursday.

Once she broke that hoodoo, a confident Pliskova fought back from 1-3 down in the second set and saved a match point at 4-5 in the third to defeat Venus Williams (4-6, 6-4, 7-6) in front of a partisan American crowd. That win gave made a huge difference in the semis against Serena.

“Obviously the match with Venus helped me, not only with the game, but also with the crowd,” said Pliskova, who is only the third woman to beat Serena and Venus Williams at the same US Open.

“I knew I was going to play one of the Williams sisters on centre court (in the semis) with all the people against me, and I was prepared for it.”

Having defeated the reigning No 1, Pliskova now looks to beat Angelique Kerber, the woman who will be taking over the No 1 rankings on Monday after Serena’s 186 consecutive weeks at the top.

The German, who defeated Caroline Wozniacki 6-4, 6-3 in the other semi-final, will be appearing in her third grand slam final of the year. She defeated Serena at the Australian Open, but lost to her at Wimbledon.

Kerber, who reached the finals at the Rio Olympics as well, leads Pliskova 4-3 in head-to-head matchups, but was blown off the court in their most recent duel, losing last month’s Cincinnati final 6-3, 6-1. This US Open final will be a shot at retribution.

“I will try to take my revenge against her,” said Kerber, who first broke through at the majors in New York in 2011, arriving as the world No 92 in 2011 to reach the semis.

Like Pliskova, Kerber had never progressed beyond the third round at grand slams until then. Ten of her 15 visits to the main draw had ended in the first round.

“For me starts everything here like 2011,” Kerber said. “That was my turnaround.”

That turnaround has come full-circle now. As Kerber gets ready to wear the No 1 crown, she would love to celebrate the occasion with the US Open title.

But Pliskova stopped her from claiming the No 1 position in Cincinnati, and she could be a party spoiler for the German and her fans once again. In her serve, she has a weapon that could prove to the deciding factor.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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Published: September 9, 2016 04:00 AM

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