Unquestionably one of tennis’ all-time greats, Serena Williams returns to action for the first time since March against Kristyna Pliskova, the identical twin of former world #1 Karolina Pliskova. Williams has played very little tennis since the Australian Open last year, due to her pregnancy and her return in Indian Wells and Miami did not go entirely to plan. Pliskova, despite winning the junior Wimbledon title, has never had her twin’s level of success. But who will win this one?
Pliskova and Williams have never before met on Tour, although Williams has twice met Karolina Pliskova in a head-to-head tied at one match win apiece. But in terms of experience, Williams has a massive advantage over the Czech. Williams is one of the most successful players of all-time, and has a terrific record at the French Open, a tournament she has won three times, including in 2013 and 2015. Pliskova, in contrast, has never gone beyond the first round in Paris, and this will be only her fourth French Open.
But, Pliskova does have a much better record for the year so far than Williams. The American former world #1 brings a record of just two wins against two defeats into Paris. Both wins came at the start of March in Indian Wells. Pliskova, however, has a healthy if not spectacular record of 13 wins against 11 losses. In short, whilst Pliskova may lack Williams’ big match experience, Williams must be lacking in match sharpness after such a long period out of the game.
Last time out
Williams’ last match came against Naomi Osaka in the first round in Miami. Osaka, who had just won the biggest title of her career, was an unusually difficult opponent and Williams was comprehensively beaten 6-3 6-2. The fairness of handing Williams such a difficult draw as she returns from pregnancy created a controversy that is still going on, with Ivanka Trump recently weighing in as have a number of the games current and former stars. But Williams will certainly be hoping to find a higher level in Paris.
Pliskova arrives in Paris after a fairly productive week on the clay courts of Nuremberg. The Czech started her week with a hard-fought but impressive 6-2 6-7 7-6 victory over Julia Goerges of Germany, who was the second seed. Pliskova backed that victory up with a win against Spain’s Lara Arruabarrena, who she bested in straight sets 6-3 7-5. However, despite winning the first set against Sweden’s Joanna Larsson, Pliskova was defeated 5-7 7-5 6-4 in the quarterfinals.
How do they match up?
Williams is one of the most formidable athletes the tennis world has ever produced. At the peak of her powers, the American was blessed with significant power off both wings and a venomous serve. Her movement and defensive skills were also equalled only by the very best. However, in her defeats to her sister Venus in Indian Wells and to Osaka in Miami, Williams looked short of rhythm to accompany her power and was ultimately not competitive against the game’s best.
Pliskova’s game shares many similarities, unsurprisingly, with her sister’s, particularly a powerful and accurate serve. Indeed, the Czech currently holds the record for the most aces hit in a single WTA Tour-level match after striking down 31 against Monica Puig in Melbourne two years ago though she was ultimately defeated. Which perhaps hints at the frailties within her game. Despite impressive power, Pliskova seems to lack the innate ability to win matches that marks out a great player.
Serena Williams may have been rather dismissed by Osaka and Venus, but they are two of the best players in the game. Against Zarina Diyas and Kirsten Flipkens, two players ranked nearer to Pliskova, Williams was able to tough out match wins. There is no reason to suspect she won’t be able to do the same against Pliskova, who is anyway not hugely comfortable on a clay court. It will almost certainly be too soon for Williams to mount a title challenge, but she will at least still be in contention in the second round.