Tennis can often be massively rewarding for the talented few out there but sometimes the champions do not get a chance to celebrate their success and Karolina Pliskova knows that feeling all too well.
The Czech world No3 on Saturday wrapped up a tremendous title triumph at the Qatar Total Open in Doha but was already in Dubai barely 20 hours later talking to reporters about her next tournament.
The 24-year-old endured a brutal week in the Qatari capital that was swept by thunderstorms throughout the entire tournament and forced players to contest more than one match in one day.
It was all even more gruelling for Pliskova considering she had arrived late in Doha after helping her Czech team beat Spain in Fed Cup the previous weekend in Ostrava.
“It was very difficult especially with the Fed Cup weekend I had. I wasn’t sure about my tennis (at the beginning of the week in Doha) because I didn’t practice much and we played Fed Cup indoors and this was outside, so everything was a bit different,” the Dubai No2 seed said on Sunday.
“The conditions there were really tough the whole week so I didn’t practice much before the matches. I’m just happy. I played four matches in three days so it was a special week definitely and I think in the end I was even playing good tennis in the finals.”
The 2015 Dubai runner-up immediately switched her focus to the action at the Aviation Club this week, where the faster courts suit her game even better than Doha.
“I just got here (to Dubai). Last night I was trying to enjoy the title I won and today I’m starting a new tournament so this is the last time I’m talking about my trophy. I just want to prepare again for this tournament, it’s going to be different, new balls, new players here, big draw, so one just has to be ready,” she said.
Pliskova has elevated her game dramatically within the past six months – a period in which she won the Cincinnati title, reached the US Open final and made her WTA Finals debut in Singapore.
She is the only player to have captured two titles so far this season, having also scooped the trophy in Brisbane to start the year, and has a target on her back as the in-form player of the moment.
“I’m beating players which I haven’t beaten in the past, especially this week I beat two of them (Caroline Wozniacki in the Doha final, and Dominika Cibulkova in the semis). There are only one or two players left which I haven’t beaten yet.
“I think anything is possible and with my game I have big opportunities to beat those players, I just have to play well, stay aggressive, serve well and then I have the chance to beat anyone.”
Asked to name the players she hasn’t beaten yet, Pliskova said: “Obviously Agnieszka Radwanska, she will be the next one I want to beat. I played Maria Sharapova once, that was just one meeting, and I think against Ekaterina Makarova I don’t have a good record.”
Pliskova could meet Radwanska in the semi-finals in Dubai should they make it through their first three matches.
The Polish No4 seed won Dubai in 2012 and is hoping for a repeat success this week.
“I hope I can show good tennis here and get some good results. I think the most important thing is I’m healthy and I just feel I can play my best here,” said Radwanska.
It’s no secret that the people players choose to surround themselves with often play the biggest role in their success.
It could be a coach, a friend, a family member, an agent, a psychologist, or all or none of the above that make the difference for a player at any given week and it’s quite interesting to hear from the pros about the main influences in their day-to-day life.
For Ons Jabeur, it is her fellow Tunisian and former world No75 Selima Sfar that has been a positive presence in her life recently.
The two are good friends and sometimes hit together when they are both in Doha, where Jabeur’s husband resides and where Sfar spends a significant amount of time due to her beIN Sports commentating duties.
Sfar is the only Arab woman to ever crack the top-100 and Jabeur is looking to follow suit.
The 22-year-old North African joked the other day that Sfar has been telling her that she’s her good luck charm considering they practiced together for a week before Jabeur made the quarter-finals in Taipei earlier this month, and they did so again in the build-up to Dubai, where she has qualified and now reached the second round.
“She told me ‘You see, every time you practice with me you do well’. And I’m like ‘okay, Selima’. She keeps telling me she’s ‘mabrouka’ (good luck charm). Mabrouka is a name, I told her ‘no, your name is Selima’,” laughed Jabeur.
“She’s sweet and she’s helped me a lot, with her energy, how she tries to be positive with everything. She’s from the same country as me and it’s amazing to have her by my side.”
For someone like Karolina Pliskova, having her twin sister Kristyna on tour has been a big advantage. She spoke to reporters on Sunday about their relationship.
Karolina is ranked No3 in the world is the more successful one of the pair, but Kristyna is actually on the rise and is up to No58 in the world.
On Saturday in Doha after Karolina won the title, a reporter asked her how she felt about being unseeded and facing a tough opener in Dubai against Roberta Vinci. Karolina quickly pointed out that it was her sister who is facing the Italian, not her.
“Sometimes it’s tough because people are still confusing us both, they still don’t know which one is which, after so many years I’m still surprised but unfortunately that’s the case,” said Karolina with a smile.
“I think on one hand it’s definitely an advantage to have someone like this on the tour. Since now two or three years we haven’t met much at tournaments but she’s moving up the rankings and we’re going to have more and more tournaments in common. Maybe in the future we can even start to play doubles again.
“On the other hand always for one of us it’s not an advantage to have someone – let’s say like it is for her now – when someone is winning more than the other, that’s tough.”
Does she have any tips on how people can differentiate between them?
“We have different tattoos. On court it’s easy, she’s lefty and I’m right-handed, but still people can’t tell us apart on court. I don’t know what more we can do to help you,” the Czech added laughing. “We have different hair. Someone who is with us more often can tell us apart.”
And do they share twin telepathy?
“A little bit but I don’t feel right now what she’s doing. But most of the time we say the same things in one moment, exactly the same words or sentences. We have the same talking, and same thinking. There’s always something between twins,” she explains.
They say the best thing you can do when you make a mistake is to learn from it and that is precisely what Ons Jabeur has done.
Earlier this month, the Tunisian held four match points against Elina Svitolina and served for the win twice in an attempt to reach the Taipei semi-finals. Instead, Jabeur lost and was left ruing her missed opportunities
On Sunday against world No23 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Jabeur made sure there was no repeat heartbreak as she sealed a 7-6 (6), 2-6, 6-4 win over the Russian to claim the biggest victory of her career and reach the second round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Jabeur, ranked 172 in the world and making her Dubai main draw debut, was down 4-6 in the tiebreak in the opening set but bounced back to take the lead and held her nerve in the decider to achieve her very first top-25 win.
“I’m really excited. It’s been like a long day. I’m really really happy to win this match. It means a lot to me, especially when I was serving for the match, because I was thinking about the last match in Taipei and I was winning 5-3. I was like ‘come on, Ons, you have to win it, you have to. If you don’t win they’re going to kill you out there’,” said the 22-year-old after her win.
“It was a really good match. I had a lot of opportunities. She had good opportunities in the first set, which made me winning the first set quite special because I was meant to lose it. But then I came back. Now I have to focus on the next match and be more focused.”
In the second round, Jabeur is scheduled to take on Chinese world No76 Wang Qiang, who upset 34th-ranked Jelena Ostapenko in her opener on Sunday.
“I’m trying to get my best result at Premier event, so hopefully I’m going to continue this way and continue winning,” said Jabeur, who is the first Arab woman to reach the Dubai second round since Selima Sfar in 2006.
On claiming her best win to date, she added: “It’s amazing. I was more comfortable than her (Pavlyuchenkova) for sure. I was playing my game. She started really good, I was like ‘okay, No14 seed playing like this?’.
“But I know that I have this level. It’s not the first time for me to beat really good players, or play good players, or be dangerous for these players. I just have to believe in myself more. I know I can be in the top-20, I’m just missing some stuff. But I’m getting there, I know that.”
Jabeur, the 2011 French Open junior champion, admits it is easier to play against a higher-ranked opponent than against someone she is supposed to beat. But she’s trying to bring consistency to the way she plays against any opposition.
“I like to play top players, it’s amazing for me. I’ll play amazing and it’s less pressure for me,” she concedes.
“Now I changed a little bit, whether I’m playing 200, 400 or top-20, or top-100, it has to be the same thing. I have to keep the same level and that’s what will make me a better player and make me like the top-10 players. Because every time they play against any player they play good from the start.”
Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka is another player to enjoy a successful Dubai debut as she easily skipped past Taiwanese qualifier Chang Kai-Chen 6-2, 6-4 in 79 minutes.
“I’m really happy I was given the opportunity to play this tournament because last year I remember my ranking wasn’t so high so I couldn’t come here. I know this is a really big tournament, so to play here is a big deal for me,” said the 56th-ranked Osaka.