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US Open - Karolina Pliskova vs CoCo Vandeweghe preview

Hannah Wilks in Tennis 6 Sep 2017

 World no. 1 Karolina Pliskova takes on CoCo Vandeweghe this afternoon in the quarter-finals of the US Open.

After coming into the US Open at the head of a pack of eight women who had the chance to be ranked world no. 1 after the fourth and final Grand Slam of the year was finished, Pliskova has now narrowed it down to a straight fight between herself and Garbine Muguruza (no longer in the tournament). 

After Elina Svitolina lost to Madison Keys on Monday, Pliskova can remain world no. 1 by reaching the final of the US Open for the second straight year – if not, she will lose the top spot to Muguruza. 
Two matches away from the final, Pliskova’s first challenge is a quarterfinal clash with Vandeweghe.

Pliskova may not necessarily want to hold on to the no. 1 ranking, which she inherited after and despite an unfortunate second-round loss to Magdalena Rybarikova at Wimbledon, because if her results haven’t been too average since then, certainly some of her tennis has been, in a way that suggests she’s experiencing it as pressure. Rybarikova really put in an inspired performance to win that Wimbledon match, and is in many ways a nightmare match-up for Pliskova on grass, but she really squandered a winning position against Caroline Wozniacki – who has no weapons to match hers – in the quarterfinals in Toronto and although she got revenge on Wozniacki in Cincinnati, she mustered little resistance to Muguruza in a 3-6, 2-6 defeat in the semifinals.

More problematic, however, has been her struggles to defeat lower-ranked opponents in New York, where she had her first Grand Slam breakthrough 12 months ago when she defeated Serena and Venus Williams to reach the final. A 6-2, 6-1 scoreline against Magda Linette flattered her level of play, and she had to come back from a set down against both Nicole Gibbs in the second round and Zhang Shuai in the third – saving a match point – to make the round of 16. 

If Pliskova doesn’t entirely love being the world no. 1, however, it’s certainly arguable that she doesn’t want to stop being world no. 1 either – as the ferocious forehand down the line she hit to save match point against Zhang would argue, and the clinical manner of her fourth-round, 45-minute dismantling of Jennifer Brady. The world no. 93 American, a surprise entrant in the fourth round, was absolutely no match for Pliskova and offered little resistance, but a player who is really struggling for confidence can make a meal out of almost any seemingly straightforward match. The fact that Pliskova didn’t, raising her level to stamp her authority on the tournament for the first time, suggests that she certainly wants to fight for her place in the final stages.

Against CoCo Vandeweghe, however, she unmistakably has her hands full. Their games are superficially similar – built around big serves and booming, first-strike forehands – but Pliskova’s understated, calm demeanour is miles away from Vandeweghe’s penchant for loud celebrations, racquet-tossing and generally wearing her heart on her sleeve. The Czech was also keen to point out that they’re not that similar even in terms of the game.

‘I would not really put me and her together,’ Pliskova said, ‘like not even personally.

‘Like with the game...we both have the plan to play aggressive, but I think she's a little bit - not messy sometimes, but she's just going for her shots. Even if she just miss[es] like five meters out, she doesn't care, so it's different. It's not my game style.’

Vandeweghe is looking for her second Grand Slam semifinal of the year after reaching the final four at the Australian Open, where she stormed past Angelique Kerber and Muguruza before losing in three sets to Venus Williams. With the exception of Fed Cup and a slightly random quarterfinal appearance in Madrid, Vandeweghe didn’t win too much over the next few months, but she beat Wozniacki to make it to the Wimbledon quarterfinals and rebounded well from the disappointment of the lackluster performance she put in against Rybarikova there with a runner-up finish to Madison Keys at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford. 

CoCo Vandeweghe (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Vandeweghe seems to relish playing at home so it’s surprising that she had never won back-to-back matches at the US Open before this year – but the American has got a lot better at fighting, competing and gritting her way through three-set matches under the tutelage of new-ish coach Pat Cash, and she survived dropped sets against Alison Riske and Agnieszka Radwanska (formerly an absolute nightmare opponent for her) to make the fourth round. Against Lucie Safarova in the fourth round on Arthur Ashe Stadium, Vandeweghe made a shaky serving start and had to survive several break points which Safarova – having an inconsistent returning day, to say the least – was unable to convert before taking the first set in a tie break. In a staccato, rhythm-free match between two aggressive players making their fair share of unforced errors, it was Vandeweghe who raised her level when she needed to and kept her focus – who looked, in fact, like the big-stage player comfortable in these kinds of matches and ready to go deep in the second week of a Grand Slam. 

Vandeweghe is one of four American women to have made the US Open quarterfinals – a number not seen since 2002 – and she makes no secret of her ambition to be the one, or at least one of the ones, who makes the semifinals (as she points out, it’s an individual sport). She’s also not intimidated by facing Pliskova’s big serve and booming groundstrokes which can render a less powerful opponent irrelevant, because she knows she can give as good as she gets, or better. 

‘It's definitely the first strike kind of tennis, I think is the easiest way to simplify it,’ Vandeweghe said. ‘If I'm hitting my shots, I'm definitely doing a lot better job in the scoreline than she is and vice versa. So I think it's pretty much as simple as that.’

Pliskova and Vandeweghe are tied 2-2 in the head-to-head, with Pliskova having won their most recent meeting – on clay in Stuttgart in April – in straight sets. But Vandeweghe won the only recent match they have played on hard courts, in Dubai last February, 7-6(5), 6-1. Pliskova’s clinical win over Brady notwithstanding, she has not been playing her best tennis for some time, while Vandeweghe appears confident, energized, has the crowd behind her and loves being in this position. It will take a special, authoritative and gritty performance from the world no. 1 – i.e. not going away if she should lose the first set in a tight tie break – to beat Vandeweghe, and all the form and momentum is on the American’s side. This could be Vandeweghe’s moment to make her first US Open semifinal.

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US Open - Karolina Pliskova vs CoCo Vandeweghe preview

World no. 1 Karolina Pliskova takes on CoCo Vandeweghe this afternoon in the quarter-finals of the US Open.

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