With the business end of the US Open fast approaching, two players who have rather flown under the radar so far but will have high hopes of glory all the same, Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty, meet in the fourth round. Pliskova’s Major breakthrough came on these very courts two years ago when she made the final, but she has found sustained success hard to come by lately. Barty, meanwhile, is looking to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. Who will come out on top?
Pliskova and Barty have met three times, and it is the Australian that has the edge in the head-to-head, having won two of those three matches. The first came six years ago in the semifinals of an ITF event in Nottingham on the grass, which Barty won from a set down, 2-6 6-3 7-6. Their rivalry was renewed in Nottingham four years later though the tournament was by then a WTA event. Pliskova won 7-6 7-6 in the quarterfinals. But Barty beat the Czech again last year in Wuhan, 4-6 7-6 7-6.
Path to the fourth round
Pliskova began her tournament against Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas and edged out the 24-year-old in straight sets, 6-4 7-6. That victory set up a second round clash with Romania’s Ana Bogdan and Pliskova delivered a scintillating performance to oust her 6-2 6-3. She then faced the American teenager Sofia Kenin in the third round. Kenin had played some fine tennis to reach the third round at a Major for the first-time, but Pliskova’s greater experience told in a 6-4 7-6 win.
Barty, who is also competing in the doubles alongside Coco Vandeweghe, faced Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur in the first round. She dismantled Jabeur, winning 6-1 6-3 in what was their first meeting. She then overcame former French Open finalist Lucia Safarova 7-5 6-3 to reach the third round at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center for the second year in a row. There Barty beat Karolina Muchova, who had upset Garbine Muguruza in the second round, 6-3 6-4.
How do they match up?
Pliskova’s game is centred on a big serve and punishing groundstrokes, Barty’s on variety, excellent feel and impressive foot speed. Both have been serving well so far. Barty has landed 16 aces across her three matches, though her performance from the line against Muchova, against whom she hit just two aces at the cost of five double faults, was far from inspiring. Pliskova has had her own issues with double faults, hitting eight in the first round and five in the second.
But she has also fired 22 aces past her opponents so far and been broken just eight times, five of which came against Diyas in the first round. Winners have also been flowing from her racquet, with the Czech having struck 82 so far in New York. Barty has hit only 52, but has made 28 fewer unforced errors than Pliskova. Expect that pattern to continue in this match, with Pliskova doing the majority of the attacking, with the result a larger total of unforced errors and winners alike.
With the courts bouncing higher and playing slower in New York this year, and the temperature having dropped after a sweltering first week, the advantage in every match swings in favour of the bigger hitters because they have more time on the ball. And in this match that is unquestionably Pliskova. For Barty, whose game relies so heavily on keeping opponents unsettled that is bad news. It will still likely be a close contest, but that edge will tip the match in Pliskova’s favour. The Czech in three.