Karolina Pliskova described her 6-2, 6-1 defeat to Maria Sharapova in the Roland Garros third round on Saturday as one of the worst matches from her side this season, adding that players like the Russian and Serena Williams know how to do whatever it takes to get a victory.
Pliskova, ranked No. 6 in the world, believes Sharapova is well on her way back to her best, but the Czech also rued her poor performance, saying her entire Roland Garros this year was sub-par.
“I think nothing was working for me and on the other side I think she was playing very well, hitting all the balls pretty deep. I didn’t have any chances – I had some chances but there weren’t many of them,” Pliskova said after the match.
“I think it was one of the worse matches this year from me…
“I don’t think I played well here throughout this tournament, not even any practice, not even any warm-up, not even any match. And this is the result.”
Sharapova has struggled with injuries since her return from a doping ban 13 months ago but found form in the build-up to the French Open, making the quarters in Madrid and semis in Rome – where she took out a sixth-ranked Jelena Ostapenko – to snag a last-minute seeding at Roland Garros.
Playing in Paris for the first time since 2015, Sharapova was pleased to make a return to Court Philippe Chatrier, and now awaits the winner of the clash between Serena Williams and Julia Goerges.
Pliskova, who often plays doubles with Goerges, believes the German has a chance against Serena, who claimed her first top-20 win since returning from maternity leave in the second round against Ashleigh Barty.
“I think she [Julia] has a chance today for sure, I just talked to her in the locker room a little bit. But still it’s Serena. It’s going to be tough to beat her because of the name for sure,” said Pliskova.
Asked to elaborate, Pliskova added: “Because it’s Serena Williams, even if she plays bad it’s still tough to beat her, it’s still tough to close the match. That’s how it is with those girls, so there is not always the best tennis but they just fight and they know how to turn the matches.”
While Sharapova was out of the game, Pliskova reached her first Grand Slam final, at the US Open in 2016, defeating Serena en route. The 26-year-old Czech rose to No. 1 in the world last year and has a serve that can intimidate many players out there. With Sharapova seeded 28 and still finding her way back, did Pliskova still feel the X-factor she was referring to earlier about Sharapova and Serena?
“I think for sure she is a name, not only because she’s Sharapova, but because she won a lot of tournaments, and not only because of what she had with doping or whatever, she’s a good player,” said Pliskova.
“She’s tough always, even if she’s double-faulting, or giving you a lot of mistakes, I think she can just play very well, aggressive. It’s the same with Serena, those girls just don’t give you the match for free, you just have to work for it. It doesn’t matter how bad she’s playing.”
She continued: “I think nobody is going to give you anything, because everybody is still playing, it’s a Grand Slam. But I think they [players like Sharapova] just try different things than maybe I try.
“I don’t take 30 seconds between every point to just make the opponent feel worse and those stuff. It’s more about the behaving around, not the tennis.
“So I think there is nobody who will give you a set, not even a game. She can give you a lot of mistakes, it’s not about the game of tennis, but it’s about the behaviour around, she does everything possible to win the match. Whether it’s with the timer, whatever, she screams, she does everything possible to win.”
Pliskova expects to head back home to Monaco before shifting her focus to the grass season and joked, “I don’t want to see any courts, not even grass courts” for a while.
On her part, Sharapova was thrilled by her clinical performance against Pliskova, who made semis in Paris last year, and won Stuttgart earlier this clay season.
“I think I was happy and smiling. I guess these are the types of occasions where you want to play really good, solid tennis against a top-10 player that’s been playing extremely well. When you’re able to deliver that on a Grand Slam stage, I think it makes it extra special,” said Sharapova.
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The pair have not faced off in nearly seven years, with Serena winning their two previous meetings, at Roland Garros in 2010, and Toronto in 2011.
Goerges has reached seven finals within the last 11 months and entered the top-10 for the first time last February.
Although her clay preparations heading into Roland Garros were hampered by illness that forced her out of Rome, Goerges seems to be in great form entering her clash with Serena, who took out Kristyna Pliskova and No. 17 seed Ashleigh Barty in her first two matches here in Paris.
WHAT THE PLAYERS SAID
Serena, who was out of action for a year, in which she had her first child, Olympia, and got married, had been keeping tabs on the tour it seems while she way away from the game.
The American 23-time Grand Slam champion said this about Goerges:
“She’s been playing really, really well, and I have actually been watching her play a lot when I was pregnant, because she’s been winning a lot and they show a lot of her matches.
“It would be good to play her. Every round for me is just an opportunity to go out there and do the best that I can do, and whether I win or lose, that’s what I’m out here to do in this tournament.”
Goerges, who hurt her neck during her warm-up ahead of her second-round win over Alison van Uytvanck, is hoping that issue does not affect her serving. The 29-year-old said this about her upcoming showdown with Serena, as quoted by German outlet mytennis.info.
“I believe the name Williams has an incredible status in tennis, and rightfully so. Serena hasn’t won 23 Slams in passing. Still, I believe you’ve got to distance yourself a little from the name of your opponent.
“I want to play my game, regardless of who is on the other side. Sometimes that is easier said than done but that is how I want to go about this match. For me it’s fantastic that I get to play Serena even if it’s already in the third round of a Slam, no matter what people say about the draw. But at the end you need to take every opponent seriously: whether that’s Serena, van Uytvanck or Cibulkova.”
THE NUMBERS GAME
0-4 – Goerges’ win-loss record against the Williams sisters.
3 – Roland Garros titles Serena has won.
5 – times Goerges has made the fourth round at a Grand Slam, but has never advanced further than that. A win over Serena would see her make that six.
6 – Serena has played just six singles matches in the last 16 months.
11-2 – Serena’s win-loss record in Roland Garros third round matches.
16 – Serena is making her 16th Roland Garros appearance.
17 – aces from Goerges so far in Paris across her first two rounds.
22-10 – Goerges’ 2018 win-loss record.
22 – aces struck by Serena across her two matches so far in Paris.
51 – Goerges’ ranking in Paris last year. She is currently at No. 11.
60 – Serena has saved 60% (6/10) of the break points she faced so far in the tournament.
69 – Goerges has saved 69% (9/13) of the break points she faced this event so far.
81 – winners from Goerges across her first two rounds this fortnight, compared to Serena’s 57.
The tennis carousel spins ever so fast sometimes and it surely must feel that way for French world No. 7 Caroline Garcia.
This time last year, she entered Roland Garros ranked No. 27 in the world and was coming off a back injury that interrupted her clay preparations and made it tough for her to even put on her socks. She was also embroiled in a tense feud that raged between her and her French Fed Cup team-mates.
Her compatriots Kristina Mladenovic – her ex-doubles partner who slammed her after their split — Alize Cornet and Pauline Parmentier all openly mocked Garcia on social media when she pulled out of a Fed Cup tie citing an injury, implying they didn’t believe her.
Garcia channeled the fire from everything she was going through into her French Open campaign and ended up reaching the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam for the first time in her career. The powerful-hitting Garcia was living up to her favourite hash-tag ‘#FlyWithCaro’. She was indeed flying.
By the end of the 2017 season, she had won back-to-back titles in Wuhan and Beijing, had qualified to the WTA Finals for the first time in singles, and she came to Paris this fortnight as the French No. 1 and the No. 7 seed.
“Last year with all the things that happened off court it really helped me to know myself better and I think I grew up as a person and also as a tennis player and I was better dealing with my emotions,” Garcia told Sport360 before the kick-off of this Roland Garros.
“Of course I’m working with someone helping me with different things for a while now. It’s always good to share your emotions and how you’re feeling.
“But also my parents are sometimes the people I share with the most. They help me just stay in the present and understand what’s going on and it’s part of being normal.”
Garcia is coached by her father Louis-Paul, who believes her 2017 French Open was significant, but not life-changing.
“I think it was a good step,” said Louis-Paul.
“The ambience was a bit special because of what happened in the Fed Cup team, so it was another motivation. But I don’t think it’s the right motivation for all the time, because she didn’t make the choice of that, and that happened, and she was motivated by that.
“But after that, she needs inside motivation, and that’s the way we are working on.”
Garcia made her French Open debut at the age of 17, back in 2011, and she lost in either the first or second round in her first six appearances at her home Slam.
Like many French players, Garcia felt extra pressure at Roland Garros, and would try to avoid getting assigned a match on the main centre court, Philippe Chatrier.
She claimed an important victory against Cornet on that stadium en route to the quarter-finals last year.
“I didn’t request it because it’s a big court, but Philippe Chatrier is different from all the other courts, it’s huge on the side so it’s changing all the perception you have. It’s a court I was watching on TV when I was 10, 15, so I dreamt to be there and now I am, that’s why it was complicated for me,” she explains.
“But last year I won a very important match against Alize [Cornet], so I think I’m more experienced now.
“But of course it’s always difficult to start your first round match on a big court and with fans cheering and everything.”
This year, she requested to start on the second show court here, Suzanne Lenglen, and cruised past China’s Duan Yingying 6-1, 6-0 in 58 minutes.
Garcia came to Paris this season far more prepared than last year. Her European clay-court campaign saw her make semis in Stuttgart, semis in Madrid, and quarters in Rome.
— Caroline Garcia (@CaroGarcia) May 31, 2018
She takes on Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu in the third round of the French Open today.
“I think the majority of my game is pretty much the same, very aggressive, trying to put pressure on my opponent. But maybe this last year and the last couple of months I have a little bit more control of what I’m doing,” Garcia says of the evolution of her game.
“I’m doing less unforced errors than in the past. And mathematically I’m still hitting my winners so it’s just a couple of points here and there not giving them to my opponent and it makes me better.”
While many believe Garcia has the kind of game that can reign supreme at the Slams, her father is aware that things aren’t as simple as they seem.
“You are always close and far. And you have to accept that. Because everyone in the top-100 plays tennis very well. So things are close but far at the same time,” he explains.
“That’s what’s happening also with Caroline, we are close but we are far. And sometimes the details are very difficult to work on. That’s why we want to enjoy more the route, the ‘chemin’ (path), more than the goals.
“The goals will happen because we’re on the road, that’s the way we try to work. I think it’s the good way because if you just focus on targets, frustration can come too quickly.”
Garcia’s status at home continues to grow, as the French hope to see a first local women’s singles champion since Mary Pierce in 2000.
She insists she’s not as recognizable as you’d think she’d be in France.
“I took a flight from Lyon to Paris and I think one person recognized me only. So I’m thinking I’m safe,” she said with a laugh during a press conference in Paris.
Still, the way the crowd embraced her during her quarter-final run last year here remains an unforgettable memory for Garcia.
“I think the third-round match on Court 1 against Hsieh Su-Wei was very special and very emotional,” she recalls.
“It was a tough match of very long, and I was running side to side against her. I was a bit down in the third set, but the crowd really cheered for me, and it was the first time I was feeling this kind of emotion in an individual event. It was really special to make my first second week in the French Open after all the difficult week. And to share it with French fans was making it even more special.”
Does being French No. 1 bring any extra satisfaction to her?
“It’s not really important for me to be No. 1 or No. 2 in my country, I know for people it’s important, they always ask you ‘what do you think about being French No. 1?’ but I’m just trying to be the best I can on court and for me the most important is my world ranking, how I play on court, how I improve,” she insists.
In WTA tournaments, players are allowed to consult with their coaches during matches but that rule does not apply at the Grand Slams, and Garcia admits it often feels “weird” not being able to call her father to the court at the majors.
Players coached by their parents is a common sight in tennis but it’s not always an easy formula. Louis Paul tries to juggle his role as a father and as a coach in the best way he knows how, but concedes that it can be challenging.
“It’s not easy because I want to be a good father, I try my best (laughs) but it’s not easy to be a father, being a mother is difficult too,” he says.
“It’s really to develop her, to give her all the chance for the other life after us because this happens always.
“And as a coach it’s a bit the same. It’s for her to get all the tools to be happy and to be efficient in the game. So we work on both, but finally if you look at this, it’s to work most of all for her to become a nice person, that’s the main thing. If she’s a nice person, probably she’ll achieve other things.”
But what about the saying ‘nice people finish last’?
“It depends how you understand ‘nice people’. What is ‘nice people’?” asks Louis-Paul.
“You have to get a very strong feeling of yourself to become a champion. But after saying that, you can respect other people, this is possible, do both things, that’s the right way, in life in general. You can be competitive but also respect the other people.”
As she prepares for her third round meeting with Begu, Garcia is hoping to continue to ride the wave of support she continues to get here in Paris.
After her second round three-set victory over Peng Shuai she said: “There was an incredible atmosphere for a second round. I didn’t expect that. That’s what it is. In Roland Garros you’re inhabited by something in both ways. You go and look for something in a way you have never done.
“I encouraged myself. I was boosting myself as I have never done. In the same way you’re inhabited because you want to do well and you stress. But the public was incredible, and I felt incredible emotions.”