SINGAPORE - Throughout the last two season, World No.3 Karolina Pliskova has oft told reporters she is not the type of player to show up in a new place, a new tournament, and play well. It takes time for the 25-year-old to acclimate herself and the difference between her body language and play in this year's BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global compared to her debut last year is clearly noticeable. Even before her comprehensive win over Venus Williams on Sunday night, Pliskova has cut the figure of a woman who's been here before. She's been relaxed with the press, on the practice court, and throughout the opening gala over the weekend.
"I was feeling so much better than last year, so I cannot compare those matches, not even a little bit," Pliskova said. "I had a good week of practice here, so I felt like it can be okay. But I just wasn't sure about how I'm going to feel, if nervous or not, because still we are the first match on. But I felt pretty good. Actually, I felt really good."
"Doesn't matter how I play those next two matches, but it already gave me the lesson from last year. So I was able to learn from it and take the positives, and that's why I feel better this year."
One can understand Pliskova's heightened stress during her debut last year. Not only was the unique nature and format of the WTA Finals brand new to her, but the sticky surface was one that, at first blush, seemed built to undo her powerful game. This year, after a week of practice with former doubles No.1 Rennae Stubbs, Pliskova appears to have figured out how to make the surface work for her, not against her.
"[We didn't work on] any specific things, just a little bit playing with the surface," Pliskova said. "The ball is a little bit stopping, so trying to move to the net with some balls if I can, if I have the chance. Trying to be aggressive on the returns, which I was doing very well today.
"Some different changes with my serve, different slice and some kick serves just to change the rhythm a little bit. That's the main thing for my game. So return and the serves. That's what we were focusing on."
To add to the comfort, Pliskova has been vocal about how pleased she is to match power-for-power against the rest of the women in the White Group. Last year she battled the slow surface as well as players like Agnieszka Radwanska and Svetlana Kuznetsova, and she struggled to solve the counter-punching problems they presented.
"I think the game of Venus and maybe the game of all the girls, it's better than what I had last year in my group, the girls, you know," Pliskova said. "A more aggressive style I have in the group, so I always feel better against those players."
Hear more from Pliskova on the Singapore Dispatch podcast below:
Jelena Ostapenko finds her range too late against Garbiñe Muguruza
In a rematch of their three-set thriller at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open earlier this month, Muguruza got her revenge, out-steadying an erratic Ostapenko to win 6-3, 6-4. Muguruza's experience and comfort on court at the Singapore Indoor Stadium was apparent from the first ball, as the Spaniard, who went 3-0 in group play in her tournament debut in 2015, broke Ostapenko five times en route to the straight set win."I'm not very pleased with the match today because I was making a lot of unforced errors and couldn't really get used to the court and feel my game," Ostapenko said. "I think especially in the first set I couldn't really get used to the court. I was struggling a lot because the bounce is very different from the courts we play during the year."
"And the second set I already got used to a little bit, and I was really close to make it 5-All, saving two match points, but I'm happy that I was fighting until the last point."
"Today I was making a lot of unforced errors from my backhand side that I usually don't miss that much, and I think it was probably because I couldn't really get used to the court and feel the bounce and was struggling a little bit with feeling my backhand today."
White Group advancement scenarios for Tuesday
With Pliskova and Garbiñe Muguruza winning in straight sets on Sunday, here are the qualification scenarios for Tuesday, which will see the Venus vs. Jelena Ostapenko to kick off the night session followed by Pliskova vs. Muguruza, who will battle to lead the White Group.
- If Pliskova and Venus win, Pliskova qualifies as group winner and Ostapenko is eliminated. Williams and Muguruza would play for the No.2 spot on Thursday.
- If Pliskova wins in straight sets and Ostapenko wins in three sets, Pliskova qualifies, with her qualifying position to be determined.
- If Muguruza and Ostapenko win, Muguruza qualifies as group winner and Venus is eliminated. Ostapenko and Pliskova would play for the No.2 spot on Thursday.
- If Muguruza wins in straight sets and Venus wins in three sets, Muguruza qualifies, with her qualifying position to be determined.
Any other combination of results will mean the qualification fates for all four players will come down to Thursday's matches.
Stat of the Day: Venus Williams has now played four WTA Finals on three different continents: Los Angeles, New York, Doha, and Singapore.
GIF of the Day: The ever GIF-able Jelena Ostapenko...
Quote of the Day: Take it away, Garbiñe...
Q. So this fan question is what is your go-to coffee order? When you go to order coffee, how do you like it?
GARBIÑE MUGURUZA: Black and no sugar. Hard, like rough, like, eww (smiling).
The Red Group takes the stage on Monday night: Play begins at 7:30pm SGT.
No.1 Simona Halep vs. No.8 Caroline Garcia (2-1)
No.4 Elina Svitolina vs. No.6 Caroline Wozniacki (3-0)
Hear more from World No.1 Simona Halep, the winner of the Porsche Race to Singapore, on the new Porsche Podium Podcast below: