Six-time former champion Serena Williams will continue her quest for a seventh US Open title against the last woman to beat her in New York, Karolina Pliskova. After an impressive first week, many felt there was a sense of inevitability about Williams’ run, but in the second week the competition has already heated up. And Williams will know the danger posed by the big-serving eighth seed from the Czech Republic. But will it be Williams or Pliskova who books their place in the last four?
Williams and Pliskova have met twice so far in their careers and the head-to-head is tied at one match apiece. Their first clash came back in 2014 in the second round in Stanford and Williams emerged a fairly comfortable 7-5 6-2 winner. But, as mentioned above, Pliskova beat Williams at the US Open. Ahead of that clash, which came in the semifinals in 2016, Williams was the overwhelming favourite, but Pliskova came out firing and won through to her first Grand Slam final 6-2 7-6.
Path to the quarterfinals
Williams opened her 2018 US Open campaign with a 6-4 6-0 win over Magda Linette, before overpowering Carina Witthoeft 6-2 6-2 in the second round. That win set up a match with her elder sister Venus, but despite high hopes for the match, it proved exceedingly one-sided as the younger Williams dominated from start to finish to win 6-1 6-2. She then started strongly against Kaia Kanepi only to face a spirited fightback from the Estonian, but Williams eventually prevailed 6-0 4-6 6-3.
Despite arriving in New York in rather indifferent form, Pliskova has been impressive so far. She began her tournament with a good 6-4 7-6 win over Zarina Diyas before ousting Romania’s Ana Bogdan 6-2 6-3 to reach the third round. There she beat 19-year-old American Sofia Kenin in straight sets, 6-4 7-6, to return to the fourth round for the third year in a row. Awaiting her there was the often tricky Ashleigh Barty, but Pliskova dispatched the Australian 6-4 6-4.
How do they match up?
Both Williams and Pliskova are power players as exemplified by their excellent serves. Williams leads the ace race with 47, Pliskova is tied in second place with Madison Keys with 26. Indeed, Williams has been superb from the line so far at the US Open, and has recorded the fastest serve in the women’s draw at 121 mph and made an impressive 70% of her first serves. That number did drop to 59% against Kanepi though, and it was that decline that allowed the Estonian into the match.
Williams will hope to avoid a similar drop off against Pliskova, who has more power even than Kanepi. Pliskova has hit 102 winners already and has also moved well. Though she will be well-aware of the need to raise her level against Williams and play more aggressively than she did against Barty in the fourth round, she is at her best when going for her shots. That being said, Williams does not want for power herself and is a better defender than Pliskova.
Williams swept all before her in the first week, playing what was surely the best tennis of her comeback so far. But, Kanepi showed in the fourth round that the title will not simply fall into her lap. And Pliskova has the quality and power to provide another stern test. Indeed, she could well spring the upset. She has before. But Williams responded impressively to Kanepi’s challenge and expect her to edge out Pliskova in three to return to the semifinals.