ROME, Italy - No.4 seed Karolina Pliskova is into the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final for the first time after ending Greek star Maria Sakkari’s dream run in straight sets.
One of the most consistent players on tour in 2019, Pliskova scored her 500th career match win in style in the last round against former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka, edging her way to a 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-2 victory.
Pliskova carried that momentum into her match against Sakkari on Saturday, firing 13 winners and breaking the Greek three times en route to a solid 6-4, 6-4 victory.
“I’m still not feeling like I would be playing the best tennis,” Pliskova told press. “I think the best match was yesterday against Vika. I think it was a good level.
“[But] super happy because I didn't feel, not even before the tournament, not even during, that I'm playing amazing. I'm in the final. Especially in this tournament, it means quite a lot to me because I never played well.
“On clay, I was just hoping for some matches, maybe couple, but not for this much. Yeah, really happy before Paris to go this week.”
Sakkari has found her footing on clay in a big way this season, with 12 of her 24 career wins on the surface coming this season alone. She lifted the trophy in Rabat - her first WTA title - earlier this month, backing up her quarterfinal finish in Charleston.
And in just her second Rome main draw appearance, she fought through qualifying and scored wins over Anett Kontaveit, Kristina Mladenovic and Petra Kvitova on her way to the semifinals.
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She came into the matchup against Pliskova bolstered by the fact that she had already scored on win over the Czech player, having defeated her at this very event in the second round last year.
Pliskova seemed eager to correct that record at the Foro Italico on Saturday, but she struggled to match Sakkari’s rhythm as the Greek player got off to a big start. Fully dialed in, Sakkari weathered the big Pliskova serve to earn a break at 2-1, holding onto her lead through 4-2.
But a brief rain delay during the first set - lasting only four minutes - seemed to cause the break in Sakkari’s rhythm that Pliskova needed, and the Czech came back on a tear. Upon resumption, Pliskova reeled off four games in a row, breaking back at 4-4 and scoring another break to comfortably seal the set.
The second set was even more tightly contested than the first, with nine of the ten games played going to the server. Both players had chances to break, with Sakkari having an opportunity in the first game of the set and two more at 3-2, and Pliskova piling on the pressure at 3-3. Finally, it was Sakkari who blinked first, and Pliskova broke to love at 6-4 to take the match - and her spot in the final.
It will be Pliskova’s first appearance in the Rome final, having reached the quarterfinals here in 2017 - and the first time since 1982 that a Czech player has reached the championship match
“This week, it's special because I never felt great and I just was coming here maybe without that big pressure,” she said. “Maybe that kind of helped me just to be more relax in those matches. That's why maybe I'm in the final.”
Even sweeter, by reaching the final in Rome she’s already assured of overtaking Petra Kvitova the No.1-ranked Czech, set to rise as high as World No.4 on Monday.
Standing between Brisbane champion Pliskova and her second WTA title of the year will be Johanna Konta, who knocked out Kiki Bertens to reach her biggest final on clay.
“I think she's improving now, so she's for sure back at the level where she was,” Pliskova said. “Of course she's final in this tournament, so she has to play good tennis.
“Of course, she's going to be confident. I'm going to be the one with the papers who should win, and also the head-to-head is much better for me. Quite long time we didn't play. I think never on clay, if I don't count the first match, which was I think 10 years ago.
“It's a final, so I think it's new story always. Yeah, it's going to be good, I think.”