Karolina Pliskova has been here before, and that means a lot.
Playing on the big stage, playing a big player, playing against a big game, Pliskova has done and seen it all by now.
That holds very true for her quarterfinal match against Serena Williams at Ashe Stadium on Tuesday. Been there, done that. Deja vu all over again.
Pliskova ended the last Open that Williams played in 2016, beating her in the semifinals, which led to Williams being knocked off her No. 1 perch after 186 weeks at the top. Pliskova previously had beaten Venus Williams and then lost to Angelique Kerber in the final.
In July 2017 Pliskova ascended to No. 1 in the world herself. The 26-year-old Czech player stands an impressive 6-1 and has a first serve that can rival Williams’ cannon. In 2017, with Williams on maternity leave, Pliskova led the WTA Tour with 452 aces. She has 10 career tournament victories, though none in a Grand Slam, the U.S. Open final being the only one she has reached.
This hasn’t been the best of seasons for Pliskova with one victory and some early exits in the summer hard court season after a fourth- round loss at Wimbledon. But now she stands in the way of Williams’ comeback.
It’s the challenge that she looks forward to and can call on her experience of beating Williams in the game’s biggest arena.
“I really was feeling great that year. I’m feeling great now, too,” Pliskova said. “But it was a little bit different story, 2016. I was, like, dark horse. Nobody was expecting me to get that far. But I just went on the court just to get the win, you know. So it was not for me just to go and enjoy or just to go and do some games against her.”
That Williams was No. 1, that she had six Open titles, that she had ruled Ashe for such a long time didn’t matter.
“I know she was the best at that time, but I just wanted to win. So that’s why I won, because I believed I have a chance,” Pliskova said. “I have a game to beat her. Because anyway I know she has a big game, but I have a big game, too. I have a good serve. So I have some weapons, too. So, for sure, there is always a chance for me.”
Williams wasn’t expansive when asked about their 2016 encounter here, while acknowledging that Pliskova is a formidable opponent.
“She has a really good forehand. In fact, she doesn’t do a lot of things bad,” Williams said. “I think she was No. 1 last year, so she got there for a reason. She has a lot of strong parts to her game.”
A very strong part is knowing that she can beat Williams at the biggest moment.
“I think it’s also about the experience, for sure,” Pliskova said. “I’m feeling much better now, even though the pressure is still there. But I just feel like I’m handling those situations much better. I know how it is to be in the final, actually in the second weeks of Grand Slams. So that’s what makes me confident that I can do it again. Everybody just has the pressure. So you cannot play without it.”
In another quarterfinal on Tuesday, Sloane Stephens meets Anastasija Sevastova, someone with whom she is quite familiar. On her run to the Open title last year Stephens beat Sevastova in the quarterfinals after being down 1-3 in the third set. She recently beat her in Montreal, winning 6-2, 6-2.
“Hoping to just get out there and kind of execute the same game plan,” Stephens said. “A big opportunity for both of us.”