ZHENGZHOU, China - No.1 seed Karolina Pliskova impressed with a clinical performance to reach her fifth final of 2019 at the Zhengzhou Open, defeating Ajla Tomljanovic 6-3, 6-2 in one hour and eight minutes.
The Czech has now beaten Tomljanovic three times in three matches this year, having also triumphed in the Brisbane quarterfinals in January and the second round of Rome in May, taking her overall head-to-head lead to 4-1. This victory puts Pliskova into her 27th career final, and third in China, where she was previously runner-up at the 2015 Zhuhai Elite Trophy (to Venus Williams) and Tianjin last year (to Caroline Garcia).
"I think the match yesterday gave me some confidence to be playing," asserted Pliskova, referring to her three-set quarterfinal win over Sofia Kenin. "It was long and had some good rallies. Today I felt just so much better. So, of course, this is the best start of the Asian swing, I think I could not do any better.
"I think I was serving well, a lot of first serves, and I just feel quite well from the baseline now. Despite a lot of matches, I feel like every time I play a little bit more I feel good. And I think she didn't play actually that bad for compared to the score, it's quite looks like easy, but for me it was not really easy."
The former US Open runner-up is remaining focused ahead of her ultimate goal, though: the trophy. "Of course there is one more match tomorrow, so I don't want to talk too much about what's going to be next," she told the press. "My goal is to win this tournament. And I'm first seed, so I should win. Of course every opponent is a little bit different and tough, but I think there's a good chance for me, if I keep playing like I was playing."
Every aspect of the former World No.1's game was in smooth working order today, making for an impeccable display of textbook power tennis. Pliskova would win 93% of her first service points, send down six aces and in total conceded only nine points behind her delivery. Complementing her renowned serve, though, was a remarkably clean performance off the ground from the Brisbane, Rome and Eastbourne champion. Hitting her spots with ruthless efficiency, Pliskova was accurate when on the front foot - but when forced on the run, was also able to counterpunch superbly, turning defence into offence smartly on a number of occasions.
This was borne out in a ratio of 28 winners to 10 unforced errors (a miserly three of which came in the first set). Further illustrating the quality of Pliskova's play was Tomljanovic's own solid showing: the Australian also emerged with a positive ratio, 19 winners to 13 unforced errors, and when she was able to execute her game came up with several creative plays as she threw both power and touch into the mix in her attempt to halt the Pliskova juggernaut.
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Ultimately, though, the 26-year-old's efforts were to no avail. Pliskova would tee off on Tomljanovic's second serve with relish: if her return wasn't a hard, flat strike into the corner that left Tomljanovic flailing, it was likely deep at the World No.46's feet and eliciting an error. Huge returns sealed the two breaks of serve that bookended the opening set, while the second set also saw Pliskova capture Tomljanovic's first and last service games.
Indeed, there would be only one momentary hint of weakness from the Australian Open semifinalist. Serving at 4-2, 40-15 in the second set, Pliskova inexplicably threw in three consecutive double faults - her only ones of the match. The resultant break point was quickly snuffed out with an unreturnable first serve, though, and a game later Pliskova sealed the win with - naturally - a forehand return winner on her first match point. Next, she will bid for a Tour-leading fourth title of the year - and first in her career on Chinese soil - against No.7 seed Petra Martic.
Pliskova does not have the most encouraging head-to-head against the Croat, having lost four times out of five matches - including a 6-3, 6-3 loss in their most recent encounter in the third round of Roland Garros. However, there are still positives for her in their past matches - and it's those she's focusing on. "I lost to Petra on clay," she pointed out. "I think clay is different, I beat her in Miami on hard court."