Madrid — World No3 Karolina Pliskova giggles when she is asked to describe her relationship with clay.
The 186m Czech, who is the second seed in Madrid this week and starts her campaign against Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko on Saturday, has yet to master the art of moving smoothly on the surface and her power game does not yield her the same success on the red dirt compared to hard courts.
Even though one of her eight WTA titles has come on clay – at her home tournament in Prague in 2015 – Pliskova admits she struggles with the surface and hopes to turnaround her poor record in Madrid, where she has won just two out of the five matches she ever contested at the Caja Magica.
“It’s complicated, yes,” Pliskova says with a laugh, describing her relationship with clay.
“So far it’s tough to say because – maybe it can change with some results – but so far I don’t like it.
“But hopefully it can change because there are two, quite big tournaments, let’s say three, one is in my hometown – so far not really good, but we’re working on some things with David (Kotyza, her coach) to change this.”
Pliskova, a runner-up at the US Open in 2016, has never made it past the second round in the Spanish capital, and is not looking past her opener against Tsurenko.
She is drawn to potentially face fifth-seeded home favourite Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals and is in the same half as sixth-seeded Johanna Konta.
Pliskova acknowledges her shortcomings on clay but still has faith she can learn to compete well on it.
“Obviously I’ve been trying to improve the movement a little bit, which I think it’s not really great anywhere, but on clay it’s even worse than on hard courts,” said the 25-year-old.
“With matches I think it can improve so I need two or three matches in a row to get better on clay.
“So far I have played three matches and I don’t think any of them were that great. Hopefully I can change it this tournament.
“We all know clay is tough for me, not the best surface, but I believe that one day I can even play good tennis here.”
In the absence of Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova, who together won four of the last six titles in Madrid, the draw feels fairly open this week. Asked who she considers the strongest contenders on the surface, Pliskova said: “I think definitely one of my favourites for clay would be Svetlana Kuznetsova (2015 Madrid runner-up).
“She’s been playing very well on hard courts as well and I think she played the final here two years ago in Madrid, so definitely she’s going to be tough.
“Obviously Simona (Halep), she’s defending champion here and then I think Garbine, even though she didn’t have a really good year so far I think she can be also dangerous on clay because obviously she won the French Open last year she’s going to be confident on clay.”
Someone who hasn’t made Pliskova’s short list is Konta, who like the Czech, has not enjoyed much success on clay, but does not share her dislike for the surface.
“I do enjoy the clay, I really do. It’s obviously a surface I haven’t played as many matches on in the last number of years but I’m really hoping I can play as many matches this year as possible on the clay,” Konta told reporters in Madrid.
“Yeah, really looking to improve on the surface because I feel it also transfers onto the other surfaces as well, it doesn’t just stay here.”
Konta has a tricky opener at the Caja Magica on Saturday against Germany’s Laura Siegemund, who claimed the title in Stuttgart last week.
While some may find a first round like that daunting, Konta is actually looking forward to it.
“She’s come off a great result in Stuttgart, she beat a lot of great players, so I know she’s playing well on this surface, so I’m really looking forward to the challenge. I think it’s a great opportunity for me to play someone who’s playing well on the surface and to really improve my game as well,” said the Brit, who has only ever contested 11 tour-level matches on clay, and won just three of them.