Karolina Pliskova produced a sparkling performance to beat Angelique Kerber 6-1 6-4 and win the Nature Valley International for the second time in three years.
The Czech, who did not drop a set all week, beat Caroline Wozniacki in straight sets in the final in 2017 and she is delighted to have repeated that feat against the German this year.
“I think this week was perfect,” Pliskova said. “I really enjoyed every day here and every day was kind of similar, because I was just rolling through and playing well every day.”
“Sometimes at a tournament you have a day where you just cannot put anything in and everything is against you. But somehow this week it didn’t come, which is a positive. Maybe the nerves are saved for Wimbledon, because there (matches) can be long.”
Pliskova improves her grass court game
While the facts are meaningful for World No.3 (this is her third title of 2019, her third title on grass and her 14th WTA title overall), her performances are potentially even more significant.
The Czech, 27, has played brilliant grass-court tennis this week. She has served superbly, she has consistently hit her trademark groundstrokes hard and deep and she has finished off points clinically at the net. Perhaps most tellingly of all, Pliskova has also made good use of the slice.
“I think I served well and cleverly used the slice wide which worked,” the Czech said. “Normally you’re never going hit 20 aces against Angie, but you just need to step after the serve and be aggressive. That’s what I did. That’s why I think I was holding my serve quite easily.”
She continued, “Obviously (my coach Conchita Martinez) played a lot of slices in her life. We practiced the slice a little bit more before grass because it can be quite effective, especially to change the rhythm.”
An improved slice could help Pliskova enormously at Wimbledon. She is in the opposite half of the draw to the nightmare quarter that features Kerber, Ashleigh Barty, Serena Williams, so she has a great chance to go for the title.
“I will take the positives (into Wimbledon) but I won’t be thinking that everything is going to be as easy as this week, because I’ve never had a week like this before,” the Czech said. “I didn’t lose that many games and I felt like everything went quite smoothly.”
Pliskova dominates from start to finish
Pliskova started the Eastbourne final very confidently. She unleashed a series of devastating groundstrokes that left Kerber floundering behind the baseline and soon established a 4-0 lead.
The German rallied to earn a break back and avoid total embarrassment in the opening set. However, the Czech restored her two-break advantage with two huge forehands and a well-judged slice and then held to clinch the set 6-1.
At the beginning of the second set, Kerber made a couple of costly errors to go a break down immediately. Pliskova then produced an exhibition of exemplary serving to rack up three easy holds and move 4-2 ahead.
The match almost ended rapidly after that, as the Czech had three chances to break in game seven. Kerber saved the first with a forehand winner and the second by forcing an error from the World No.3.
It looked like she might have lost it on the third break point. However, Hawkeye revealed that the German’s forehand winner had clipped the back of the line. She seemed buoyed by this reprieve and she played two excellent points to secure the hold.
In the next game, Pliskova responded to going 15-30 behind by hitting a backhand winner that landed on the sideline. She then beat Kerber in a battle of groundstrokes that only just cleared the net, before sealing the hold with an unreturnable serve. When she won the last point, the Czech let out a roar of delight. She clearly wanted to avoid a third set.
After Kerber held in game nine, Pliskova hit three big serves and a forehand winner to earn two match points. The German saved one with a forehand winner, but the Czech seized the second with a classy cross-court backhand.
Kerber reflects on Eastbourne and looks ahead to Wimbledon
“I think she played a perfect match,” Kerber said. “She played really well the whole week. I was trying to find my game, but she served well and she didn’t give me the chance to find my rhythm.”
“But I will try to take the positive things from the last two weeks before going to Wimbledon now.”
She continued, “It is always a challenge to play against Pliskova. Of course, there are a few things that I can change, that I can do better the next time. So, if I have the chance to play against her on grass again, I will try to be ready.”
Kerber also talked about what it would be like walking into Wimbledon as the defending champion. “I’m really looking forward to doing this,” she said. “Maybe I will take a picture of my name on the wall.”
“It is a special tournament, especially for me, and it’s a traditional tournament. So it will be nice to be back.”
Elena Rybakina claims the second title of her career in Hobart
Kazakh 20-year-old player Elena Rybakina beat China’s Shuai Zhang 7-6 (9-7) 6-3 at the Hobart International after 1 hour and 33 minutes to claim her first title of the 2020 season and the second of her career after Bucharest in 2019. Rybakina played her second consecutive final one week after losing to Ekaterina Alexandrova in Shenzhen. Rybakina converted all her three break points and dropped her serve once.
Rybakina earned an early break to race out to a 3-0 lead in the opening set and won her first 11 service points to open up a 4-1 lead. Zhang rallied from 0-40 down at 4-2 and broke back. Rybakina saved a break point at 5-5 with a forehand winner.
Both players stayed neck and neck until 6-6 and the first set came down to the tie-break. Zhang earned a set point at 6-5 with a backhand winner down the line, but Rybakina fended it off with a crosscourt backhand. Zhang saved Rybakina’s first set point at 7-6 with a wide return.
Rybakina got her second set point at 7-7 on her serve, as Zhang misfired on a wide backhand. The Kazakh player sealed the first set, as Zhang hit her return long.
Both players held on serve until 3-3 without facing any break points. Rybakina converted the first break point in the seventh game of the second set with a backhand down the line winner and held her serve with a down the line winner to open up a 5-3 lead. Rybakina won her fourth consecutive game on her first match point.
“I started very well, then I lost concentration for a few games, but I managed to come back and win the opening set. It was not easy. It was a bit windy. I played much better in the second set. Last week in Shenzhen my opponent played really good, and it was a tough match. Today I was just more focused, because it’s the second time in the final, and of course I wanted to win so much. I was focused 100 %”, said Rybakina.
Ashleigh Barty clinches the eighth title of her career in Adelaide
Ashleigh Barty beat unseeded player Dayana Yastremska 6-2 7-5 after 1 and 25 minutes to win the eighth title of her career and her first on Australian soil.
Barty became the first Australian player to win a title on home soil since Jarmila Wolfe at Hobart in 2011. The top seed reached two consecutive finals in Sydney, finishing runner-up to Angelique Kerber in 2018 and to Petra Kvitova in 2019. Barty has become the first Australian player to win an Australian tournament at WTA Premier level since Alicia Molik in Sydney in 2005.
Barty had already beaten Yastremska in Miami last year en route to winning the WTA Premier Mandatory title last year. The Australian player dropped 17 points in 10 service games and saved two of the three break point chances.
Yastremska held serve at love in the first game of the opening set. Barty broke serve at love in the third game after a forehand drive-volley error from Yastremska. Barty held her serve to consolidate the break for 3-1. He did not convert a break point in the fifth game, but she hit a service winner to open up a 4-2 lead.
Barty earned another break to race out to a 5-2 lead following a forehand error from Yastremska and held serve at love with a service winner to close out the first set 6-2 after 30 minutes.
Barty broke serve again at the start of the second set, when Yastremska hit her backhand long. Yastremska got the break back in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2.
In the second set Yastremska hit a backhand down the line winner in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead. The 19-year-old Ukrainian player held serve in the seventh game and earned a break point chance in the eighth game, but Barty fended it off with a forced error. The 2019 Roland Garros champion saved another break point chance after a loose backhand from Yastremska. Yastremska saved a break point with a down the T line serve, but Barty got the decisive break at love at 5-5 and won the last ten points with three winners to close out the match to the delight of the home fans.
“This is incredible. A great start to the year. I definitely feel the love out there, I love playing in Australia. I love playing at home. It’s been incredible for my team to enjoy this week. It was nice to get the ball rolling this week. I can’t wait to get started in Melbourne on Monday”, said Barty.
Elena Rybakina reaches her second consecutive final in 2020
Elena Rybakina beat British qualifier Heather Watson 6-3 4-6 6-4 after 2 hours and 16 minutes in the Hobart International semifinal setting up a final match against China’s Zhang Shuai.
Rybakina has become the first player to reach back-to-back finals in the first two weeks of the year since Agnieszka Radwanska in 2013. The Kazakh player finished runner-up to Ekaterina Alexandrova last week in Shenzhen.
Rybakina earned the first break in the first game, but Watson broke back with two forehand winners in the fourth game to draw level to 2-2. Rybakina broke for the second time with a crosscourt forehand in the fifth game to take a 3-2 lead and sealed the first set with another break on the first set point, as Watson hit her dropshot into the net.
Rybakina saved three break points with two aces and a service winner, but Watson converted her fourth chance with her forehand return winner.
Watson went up a double break with a forehand pass and held her serve to race out to a 5-1. Rybakina converted her second break point chance to claw her way back to 3-5.
Rybakina earned two break points in the 10th game, but Watson saved the first chance with a backhand winner before serving out the second set with consecutive service winners.
Watson saved a break point in the second game of the third set as Rybakina made a backhand error. Rybakina fended off a break point chance in the fifth game with a down-the-line backhand winner. Rybakina converted her second break point chance with a drop-shot winner on the match point.
“It was a really tough match. I was still missing all these balls in the second set. In the last few games I was playing really risky, and I am really happy that I won this match”, said Rybakina.
Rybakina set up a final against Zhang Shuai, who reached the third WTA final of her career after a 6-3 6-4 win over Veronika Kudemertova.
Zhang earned three break point chances at 2-1 with a backhand crosscourt winner and converted her first chance after Kudemertova sent her forehand wide. Kudemertova won two hard-fought service game at 4-2 and at 5-3. Zhang closed out the set on her second set point in the ninth game.
Both players held on their service games in the second set until 4-4. Zhang earned a break point in the ninth game, as Kudemertova made a forehand error. The Chinese player got the break, as Kudemertova made her forehand error. Kudemertova earned her first two break points of the match, as Zhang was serving for the match. Zhang held her serve at deuce, as Kudemertova missed returns on the next four points.
“The winter training went really good for me. Training with the national team, a lot of coaches helped me, so I was already ready before this tournament. I think all matches I played really well this week, and also a lot of the Chinese fans are coming to cheer for me, so I have had a lot of motivationto win”,said Zhang Shuai.
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