NEW YORK, NY, USA - In her first match as the No.1 seed at a Grand Slam, Karolina Pliskova lived up to her status by striking eight aces and 29 winners in a focused 6-2, 6-1 win over Magda Linette.
A 38-minute first set was tighter than the scoreline implies, including an early run of three straight service breaks. "Was expecting a little bit tougher than it was, but was a little bit nervous this morning before the match," Pliskova admitted later.
Initially, the Czech's famous serve wasn't firing on all cylinders as she landed just 52% of her first serves and counteracted two aces with three double faults. "I think serve could be better, but overall, I think it was solid," she assessed her performance to reporters after the match.
Linette, for her part, demonstrated her familiarity with her opponent's game - the pair had previously faced off five times since 2012, with Pliskova winning four of those - with dogged defence, anticipating the Czech's patterns and scampering to retrieve her hard-hitting groundstrokes.
But no US Open top seed has lost before the semifinals this decade, and Pliskova rose to the occasion by summoning her best tennis for the most important points. The World No.72 dragged her to deuce eight times over four games in the opening set - and it was Pliskova who emerged victorious from each of those mini-tussles. On her third set point, she calmly guided a backhand pass past the Pole, stranded at the net.
Afterwards, she acknowledged that the significance of her clutch play - and made executing it sound simple: "I think it's really important to just, you know, stay that game and try to do the best to win it, because the game after can be much easier after a game like this when you play over 10 minutes a game.
"I don't have any specific things to do. I just want to play what is working and maybe not too complicated. So we say if it's on my serve, I try to hit a good serve and then be aggressive, so that's always the same plan."
The second set found Pliskova growing in confidence, striking sweet angles, raising her first serve percentage to 61% and finishing points off at the net efficiently - in total, she would win 12 of her 18 forecourt advances. There would be one final mini-battle as she had to fend off six break-back points at 3-1 - but, as in the first set, the 25-year-old held firm. That would be the end of Linette's resistance as Pliskova reeled off the final two games of the match to love to book a second-round date against Veronica Cepede Royg or Nicole Gibbs.
And, in happy news for Pliskova's #AceQueen charity initiative, which will see the World No.1 raise money for the Motol University Hospital in Prague with every ace she hits during the US Open, a brace of aces to seal the win raised today's total to eight - and the amount donated to $1,600.