In terms of rankings, Karolina Pliskova’s defeat of Aryna Sabalenka in the semi-finals at Wimbledon was an upset, but as far as experience goes, the Czech has been knocking on the door of a major final at three of the other Grand Slams so finally making it through the door should, perhaps, be of no surprise.
It sounds amazing to be in the final as I never got past the fourth round here before. I had so many chances in the first set and I got frustrated. A lot of credit to her, she played a great match. I'm super happy to have found a way to win. Karolina Pliskova
The No 8 seed calmly but efficiently eventually overcame the 2nd seed, pipping her to the post 5-7 6-4 6-4 in 7 minutes under 2 hours of explosive play.
The first set was a story of 8 break points not converted by the Czech but, instead of crumbling, Pliskova regrouped to take every chance thereafter and, for just the 3rd time in the last 34 Grand Slam semi-finals, the woman who won the first set was not the ultimate victor.
“It’s amazing to be in the final,” smiled Pliskova. “It’s an incredible achievement.
“It was an amazing match from both of us. I had so many chances in the first set and got a bit frustrated, but she was serving unbelievable.
“A lot of credit to her, but super happy that I managed to find the way to win.
“It’s tough to enjoy it when she’s playing so fast that you don’t have time to think about what you want to do.
“There were some good rallies. I stayed focused. It was close. I stayed calm and positive, trusting in myself and my game. I’m proud.”
It has been nearly 5 years since Pliskova reached her only prior major final at the 2016 US Open, which she lost in a close 3-setter to Angelique Kerber.
Now she has another shot at her first Grand Slam title thanks to her one-hour 53-minute comeback win over Sabalenka.
The Belarusian had won their two previous encounters, both times fighting back from third-set deficits, and also saving match points in their most recent battle at Cincinnati in 2018, but, this time, Pliskova held onto her third-set advantage as she powered her way to victory.
In the hard-hitting clash, Sabalenka out-winnered Pliskova by 38 to 31, and she fired 18 aces to the Czech’s 13, but the Belarusian could only conjure up one break chance with a delightful drop-volley that brought up a solitary point for the set, and an untimely Pliskova double-fault gift-wrapped it for her.
Pliskova kept her head and although Sabalenka frequently outhit her, her quality of return won the day.
The 29-year-old backed up her break at 2-all with 3 aces to take a 4-2 lead, and confidently served out the set before making an ideal start to the decider with a break and a confident hold.
In a reversal of fortune as stunning as it was intelligent, the Czech triumphed at the last.
Pliskova had seen her ranking fall out of the Top 10 for the first time in nearly 5 years in the most recent rankings, which were released on the first day of Wimbledon, but after these two weeks she will return to the Top 10 on Monday.
Sabalenka could not make any significant impression on Pliskova’s serve, while the Czech’s chances came so often that the law of averages dictated she must convert, or so it seemed.
On the 8 occasions she faced break point, the Belarusian produced an un-returnable serve, and although Pliskova remained unruffled, she finally hurled her racket to the ground in frustration.
Just as a tiebreak seemed certain, at 5-6 Pliskova made two mistakes as Sabalenka hustled, varying her pace and trying to move the tall Czech around the court.
Sabalenka crafted a rally beautifully, crowning it with a gorgeous touch at the net to bring up not only her first break point but also set point and Pliskova’s response was a double-fault and lost her first set of The Championships.
Pliskova regrouped and when another hat-trick of break points came her way at 2-2 in the second set, she pounced with a pummelling return that the Belarusian could not handle.
At the start of the decider, Sabalenka floundered momentarily, and Pliskova was right on hand to punish her.
As the set went on, the two produced an exhibition of fabulous serving in which neither gave ground., but Pliskova’s resolve held and she snagged it without hesitation when the opportunity presented itself.
So many times the Czech has fallen short of expectations but on this occasion the 29-year-old did not crack and served it out with an ace.
Having never been beyond the 4th round here, she is now in the Wimbledon final.
When Pliskova faces Ash Barty on Saturday, it will be the first time since 1977 that the duel for the Venus Rosewater Dish has been fought out between two players who have never reached the final here before.
The Czech will have to beat the top two seeds in succession if she is to claim her first Grand Slam title, and Barty leads their head-to-head by 5-2.
“It sounds amazing to be in the final as I never got past the fourth round here before,” said Pliskova. “I had so many chances in the first set and I got frustrated. A lot of credit to her, she played a great match.
“I’m super happy to have found a way to win.”