Angelique Kerber vs. Karolina Pliskova
I have been slow to post this as I see this match as being dead even. I will make a case for both of them and then try to pick a winner.
Pliskova’s Economic Game
Karolina Pliskova is easy to underestimate. I watched her up close at the Cincinnati semifinal and felt most of her ease of victory was due to her opponent being out of sorts over the wind and rain. Pliskova then handled Kerber in the final and won 6 matches in New York including wins over Serena and Venus Williams. So why is she winning?
Her serve is an obvious starting point. However, Pliskova hits the ball exceptionally cleanly and pretty flat. That I think is the source of her being overlooked at times. She doesn’t use racquet head speed to generate massive spin. So it is possible to miss her clean ball striking. If one adds clean ball striking to a huge serve and then adds tactical discipline, we arrive at Pliskova’s strength. She plays points on her terms as often as possible. She dictates play and lets her game decide most points. That also leads to what I see as a quiet confidence in her game. She has a great economy of motion in her play.
Kerber’s Hustle and Grit
Does anyone on the WTA tour mix exquisite court coverage with a transition from defensive to offensive shots better than Angelique Kerber in 2016? That is why she is number one. An Australian Open and Stuttgart title do not tell the full story of her year. Kerber has been the runner-up at the US Open, Cincinnati, and Brisbane as well. A silver medal feels better than most runner-up trophies even if it comes with no ranking points. Kerber’s 2015 was a story of smaller successes leading to larger successes in 2016. To reach a 3rd major final in one year is impressive (Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, & Andy Murray also did this in 2016). Kerber’s path to the US Open final has been less star studded than Pliskova’s, but Kerber has handled these matches the way an elite player should. She has won a series of matches that in the past may have been 50-50 type matches, but in this event she was able to press her advantage and beat back challenges as though she was favored. Mentally she seems to have come to terms with being in the top tier of the women’s game and that is not unimportant.
To paraphrase Ric Flair, to be the best you have to beat the best and Pliskova has beaten Muguruza, Kerber, and Serena Williams in her current winning streak
What Will Happen?
As I said, I am not overly certain. I know Pliskova can beat Kerber in a big tournament final on this type of surface. She did so 3 weeks ago. I know Kerber was pretty tired by the end of Cincinnati as playing 11 matches over 2 weeks and having some set of flights to get to Cincinnati from Rio while also processing a gold medal match loss would take a toll on anyone. Kerber’s week off before the US Open was quite welcome and her 7 matches over 13 days in New York probably feels like a vacation compared to her Rio/Cincinnati 2 week odyssey.
For Kerber to win, she will have to return serve well, try to change the tone of many points as Pliskova will likely command most rallies at first due to the Czech’s big serve and ability to tee off on Kerber’s serve. If Kerber can get her teeth into a enough rallies and reverse the patterns Pliskova seeks to impose, she can win by turning the match into a street fight.
Pliskova can win by letting Kerber experience being on the defensive during the majority of the points. Pliskova’s serve is far better than Kerber’s. If Pliskova returns well, she will start almost every point in a preferred position. That is hard for even a world number 1 to overcome.
Who Wins: Choose Your Own Adventure?
Pliskova has a winning streak that includes straight set wins over all 3 major champions from 2016. Talk about someone beating champions in order to become a champion! This makes me lean Pliskova.
Kerber has shed the pressures of seeking the #1 ranking. She has also been runner-up at 3 big events: Wimbledon, the Rio games, and Cincinnati. A quality player who keeps putting herself into the position to win will win her share of events right? That means Kerber is likely to win.
My Prediction: Angelique Kerber d. Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 2-6, 7-5
Confidence in my pick – Low – I nearly predicted each result because I am that torn. I hope we have a great match!