Did Karolina Pliskova “shock” Angelique Kerber in the Sunday Cincinnati final, as the WTA website so boldly proclaimed?
The world No. 2 came straight from the Rio Olympics after losing in the final to an inspired Monica Puig. In Cincinnati she was exhausted, and her semifinal win over Simona Halep alone was a testament to her newfound mental resiliency.
The No. 15-seeded Pliskova beat Kerber 6-3, 6-1, to win the biggest tournament of her career at the Western & Southern Open on Sunday, keeping the German one win short of overtaking Serena Williams for the No. 1 ranking for the first time in her career.
“I had a pretty good week so I was improving match to match,” said Pliskova who also crushed Garbine Muguruza in the semifinals 6-1, 6-3. “I was expecting I’m going to play good, but I wasn’t expecting it that easy.
“Really happy with my game today. Was playing aggressive enough without mistakes almost. Serve was good. Forehand. Backhand. There was not one thing what I would change in this match.”
Now the US Open will be the all-eyes stage to see if Serena can return from the shoulder injury that kept her out of Cincinnati, and if Kerber can rebound both physically and mentally to take what is rightfully hers after a sterling 2016 season that has seen her win the Australian Open (d. Serena in final), Stuttgart, and finish runner-up in Brisbane (l. to Azarenka), Wimbledon (l. to Serena) and the Rio Olympics (l. to Puig).
“Angie’s had an amazing week and has done a great job all year,” Pliskova said on court after the final. “I think you deserve to be No. 1, but maybe next time!”
Next time could be a couple weeks in NYC.
Pliskova raced to a 4-0 lead in the first set over the German, and rolled in the second set for the biggest title of her career.
The tired Kerber sprayed 32 unforced errors to just 16 winners.
“She played really well with and she really hits the ball from the first point,” Kerber said. “She was trying to making me moving.
“I don’t know how the week was because I’m really tired actually to be honest. I think today was really that I was trying to pushing myself and trying to still giving everything what’s left actually. I give everything on court today.”
This time last year, Serena was on the verge of completing a calendar year Grand Slam. This year it will be the American on the defense, with a little more than a week to get healthy and fight off the first legitimate claim to her top-of-the-hill status in years. She’ll have to reach the semifinals at a minimum to hold her No. 1 ranking and break Steffi Graf’s record of 186 consecutive weeks on top.
“If someday it happens, it happens, but I will not be making too much pressure on this,” Kerber said. “I had such a great year so far and it’s not over yet. I won my first Grand Slam and everything what’s happened last months is just incredible. I try and enjoy it. Some days you’re losing matches; some days you win.”
Bring the drama.
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