ROME, Italy - Karolina Pliskova joined the two-title club at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, capturing her second title of the season and biggest title on clay by defeating Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4 to win Rome. Pliskova, who will rise to No.2 on Monday, joins the short list of multiple title winners that includes only Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens.
After making her second final of the season at the Miami Open in April, Pliskova saw her clay season derailed by a viral illness that limited her practice and preparation ahead of the tournaments in Stuttgart and Madrid. Her early exits at both events snapped her streak of making the quarterfinals or better at her first six tournaments of the season.
But after getting her doctor's clearance ahead of Rome, the Czech hit the practice courts hard and her work with coach Conchita Martinez paid immediate dividends. A four-time champion in Rome during her playing days, Martinez has helped Pliskova implement more shape and patience to her game and made her a contender at the French Open, where she was a semifinalist just two years ago.
Pliskova joined the WTA Insider Podcast after her big win to reflect on her week and preview her preparations for Roland Garros.
WTA Insider: Fantastic week for you. You said in press that you consider it a little bit of a miracle because you came here with 'low expectations'.
Pliskova: Yes, maybe zero expectations. Sometimes it's better this way because you don't expect much. You can play freely, without thinking about titles or finals. I think this maybe a little bit helped me to get that far.
Of course, it's not that I cannot play tennis on clay, but this tournament was not lucky in the past for me. I thought it's going to be difficult. It actually was. I got the trophy, so it's a miracle for me.
WTA Insider: I presume your memories of this event have maybe changed now?
Pliskova: Yes. Always when some tournament is working for me, when I'm playing good tennis there, I start to like the city, I start to like the tournament. Now it's changed and Rome is my favorite tournament (laughter).
WTA Insider: Your consistency this season has been impeccable. No.2 on the rankings Monday, seeded No.2 in Paris. You're always there in those later rounds. The two events where you exited early, Stuttgart and Madrid, there were complications with health and training. It seems like as long as you show up to a tournament healthy, the level has been pretty reliable for you.
Pliskova: Yeah, I mean, that's true. Of course, maybe it can change during the season. The season is long. But I feel good. I feel confident because the start of the season was super good. That always gives you some confidence by playing matches, winning Brisbane as my first tournament, I felt good at the Australian Open, too. I thought I was close to maybe winning there, too, or getting to the final.
I think I was facing some tough opponents, too, this year. Of course, as a tennis player, we cannot ever be 100% healthy. There has to be some struggles. I'm just happy that when I fought through, I just find this title here after.
WTA Insider: The consistency is something that for especially a player like yourself who models her game under an aggressive-type style, wanting to hit winners, open things up in the rallies, it's a lot harder to be consistent than maybe the more defensive-type players who can rely on their defense. For you, over your career, how have you come to find the consistency?
Pliskova: Actually, yes, that's true. I feel like I'm not the super most aggressive player. Not crazy, but I'm just patient. When I have a chance, I just go for it. It's not that I'm defensive, not at all, but I'm somewhere in the middle.
I just don't overplay some shots, so I know that's why some players, they can have really huge ups and really huge downs. I just stay in the middle, wait for my chances. Sometimes it's paid off. Sometimes I lose maybe semifinal, quarterfinal. Of course, there are good players, too.
I have my weapons. I believe in them. When I feel good, when I'm healthy, my tennis is working.
WTA Insider: At what point in your pro career did you change the mentality in terms of trying to find that solidity? Today you didn't hit many unforced errors. Against Sakkari, the same. You played contained, aggressive tennis. When you were younger, was it more, I've got to be aggressive? How did you learn the patience?
Pliskova: I think before I was more playing so freely. When I look back when I was 18, 19, I was like breakpoint, let's hit a winner. Now it's a little bit different.
I always want to give myself a chance to win the point, not by going incredible risk, but by building a point from zero. Unless somebody aces me or something, there is always a chance in the rally. Right now I feel confident. I feel solid from the baseline.
But actually it came with the years. The older I am, the more patient I guess I am.
WTA Insider: I've talked to players this week about their Plan A and their Plan B. For some players, they said, my game improved because I improved my Plan A. Other players say, No, it's more that I have my Plan A, but my Plan B got higher. For you, what do you think it's been?
Pliskova: I think it's better to not have a Plan B (laughs). I have always the plan to play aggressive, to go for my shots. Of course, there's going to be days where I miss a little bit more. You can always put some different choices, but it doesn't mean you go with a completely different plan.
My mental coach says always the Plan B can ruin your Plan A. I think you have to trust in what you have. Right now, since I feel good, since I'm winning lots of matches, there is no doubt no Plan B.
WTA Insider: Obviously the Czechs are ruling this season in a lot of ways. You and Petra lead the tour in titles, wins. Introducing Conchita into the team, what has it meant for you to have a Spanish former player in your ear, where before that it was mainly a Czech voice?
Pliskova: I decided at some point I had too many people from Czech. There were some changes with also different players. Kind of complicated. I just said, Okay, enough Czech Republic for me. I want to go somewhere else.
I think actually the people from Czech are a little bit negative. Of course, they are happy, too, when I'm winning. When everything is not going great, I can feel that. Even I'm that way.
I said, Maybe Spain is not a bad option. Since I have Spanish physio, I have Croatian fitness coach, so it's quite international team.
Everything is working. I'm super happy about the work what she's doing. She's a hard worker. She's trying to put a lot of work in. She's intense.
On the other hand, she positive about me, doesn't matter how I play, not always I'm winning tournaments. So far everything is working. I felt like the team is together pretty strong. I'm happy about that.
WTA Insider: Your husband is one of the most demonstrative box-sitters we have on tour. He gets very amped and excited. Being a couple on tour, traveling together, what has that experience been like? Do you think it's unique and different to have that setup?
Pliskova: I don't know if it's different. Of course, nobody's cheering that much and supporting me as him. We could see already a couple times this year, he gets so emotional compared to me. Sometimes I need to show him, C'mon, stay calm little bit because you're stressing me (laughs).
On the other hand, sometimes some matches where I'm really down and flat, he can really pump me up, which is good. I am happy he can travel with me. He's not on every tournament, which I think is also good, that we are not always together. There is a lot of stress, a lot of things going on. It's a good balance that I change the people so every week there is somebody else.
I feel like there are some players which they have the support, too, from the husbands or boyfriends or whatever. I think for girls, also for guys, it can be important as the year is long. There is lot of things happening. You can be losing, crying, then super happy. You need somebody to celebrate these things with.
WTA Insider: Do you talk a lot about tennis off the court?
Pliskova: Yes, actually we do. I think it's now also his...
WTA Insider: ...obsession?
Pliskova: Yeah. Too much before he was into soccer. Tennis is boring. But now he's like, Everything is boring, but I like tennis. He's watching all the matches with me. We are kind of sick with this because I love to watch tennis a lot.
But sometimes I'm like, Okay, this is enough. We go dinner, somewhere out of the tennis world. That helps, too.
WTA Insider: Paris is coming up. Everybody who wins these big titles, ends up being on the short list of favorites. You're a player that I think a lot of people sometimes forget how good you are on this surface. What do the next few days look like for you in terms of getting ready for Paris?
Pliskova: Of course, I want to give myself the best chance to go far in Paris. I want to do also the preparation. Always when I am early before the matches on the tournament, here I was also four, five days before the tournament, I feel it kind of helped me to get used to the conditions, to the balls, to everything that is happening.
I'm going to go on Wednesday morning to Paris. It's going to be like four days for me before my first match. We will see. I'm going to be two days at home, which is also nice. I'm going to take my new clothes and everything. That's nice. Since we are in Europe, this is the good part about the Europe swing for me.
Yeah, one day off. I'm a little bit surprised I feel super good, with good energy, especially after this tough week. That's positive. Hopefully we can bring this shape to Paris, too.
WTA Insider: What is the key for you to go deep when you look back at your runs where you've done well?
Pliskova: I think always for me the start is important. Beginnings of the tournaments, nobody plays the best. You can play the best, but maybe not three matches in a row. You never play the really top, top players unless there is somebody who is after injury.
It's important to survive somehow those maybe first two, three matches. Then I felt like every time I give myself this chance to go through the first week, through to the second week, I felt like I'm playing better.
Of course, the expectations are a little bit different than in the first rounds. Second-seeded, lose in the first round, it's horrible (laughs). After it's like everything is better. Then you play better players.
It's just a different tournament the second week. So that's my goal for now, just to survive and then we will see.