Karolina Pliskova leaves Wimbledon with new momentum as she readies to take her quest for a first major to the US Open in August. On Saturday, Pliskova overcame a slow start to force the first three-set women's final at Wimbledon in nearly a decade, before the World No.1 Ashleigh Barty finally held her off to win 6-3, 6-7(4), 6-3 to capture a second major title.
Pliskova came into The Championships having never progressed past the Round of 16, but the former No.1 booked a spot in her first Slam final since the 2016 US Open by knocking off No.2 seed Aryna Sabalenka in a thrilling three-set effort in the semifinals. The Czech was trying to become the 13th different woman in the Open Era to beat the top two seeds en route to a Slam, and the first since Svetlana Kuznetsova defeated Serena Williams and Dinara Safina at 2009 Roland Garros.
"It's actually mixed feelings," Pliskova told reporters after the match. "Of course my dream always is going to be now, forever, to win the Grand Slam. I'm trying to do that since I started to play tennis. I reached some goals, which I always wanted. This is going to be always my goal for now.
"It's not that I didn't like Wimbledon, but it was never my favorite place. I never played well here. I never felt so good here. But this time I think it changed a bit the feeling about this tournament, the feeling about the people. I think the atmosphere there was just incredible today. Also in the matches which I played the last two, three days."
A point that had everything 😱@KaPliskova and @ashbarty gave us a final to remember #Wimbledon pic.twitter.com/E4Py39tQOr— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2021
The All England Club was permitted to allow full capacity crowds on Centre Court and No.1 Court from the quarterfinals through the final and it made all the difference for Pliskova. The 29-year-old came out of the blocks slowly, losing the first 14 points of the match, the longest point-streak since Wimbledon began recording the stat in 1977.
"Not an ideal start of the final, of course, but I have to say, a lot of credit to her," Pliskova said. "One thing is that maybe I didn't start well, but I think she really made it super difficult for me to just feel well."
"Actually all the match I think she did great stuff. She was playing well. I think maybe one of the best matches she played against me because we played a couple times. I thought she was always a bit on and off. This time I think she never was really off even though I just came back in the second set from being a break down."
After losing the first set in a quick 28 minutes, Pliskova began to loosen up. The Centre Court crowd also got behind the underdog, and Pliskova began to increase the pressure on the World No.1. Twice Barty led by a break in the second set and twice Pliskova pegged her back to ultimately force and win the tiebreak, forcing a decider. After falling behind an early break in the third, Pliskova continued to pressure Barty in a series of 30-all service games, but Barty finally served out the win, saving a break point in the final game.
A #Wimbledon run to be hugely proud of 🇨🇿— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) July 10, 2021
No doubt we'll see you on Centre stage again soon, @KaPliskova 👏 pic.twitter.com/RAdJefvjqy
During her on-court interview, Pliskova's trademark placidity gave way to tears as she addressed the crowd.
"I felt so much support from the crowd," Pliskova said. "Princess Kate [Middleton] was there. I saw all these people just being there. Of course, you think about that. I think I never had a better moment in my career. So of course it makes you a bit, let's say, more sensitive than I normally am. I enjoyed that.
"It was not the plan to cry because I don't want to cry on the court. I feel like, 'OK, cry in the locker room, but not on the court.' Somehow I could not. The people, they cheered so much. Just too many emotions."
Despite her emotional display on court immediately after the match, Pliskova was her usual self as she spoke to reporters. As reporters tried to tactfully broach the 0 for 14 streak she started on in the match, Pliskova could only laugh. She admitted her 6-0, 6-0 loss to Iga Swiatek in the Rome final crossed her mind. But Pliskova had plenty of perspective about her loss and was confident it would leave no lingering damage.
"I know how to lose, believe me," Pliskova said, laughing. "I'm so good at that.
"I'm just going to try to be back stronger. Of course there's going to be next chances. I think plenty of them. I'm not going to give up on that."
After seeing her 230-week stay in the Top 10 end on the first Monday of Wimbledon, it took the 29-year-old just one tournament to start a new streak. Pliskova will return to the Top 10 on Monday, at No.7. Her next priority will be representing a strong Czech delegation at the Tokyo Olympics before the North American hard-court swing, which will wind its way toward the US Open. With her Wimbledon run, Pliskova became the 28th player in WTA history to make the semifinals or better at all four Slams. Only five did not or have not won a Slam.
I'm so grateful for the moments during these weeks and especially today 💚 Big thanks fo my team for always believe in me no matter what! Thanks to all of you for the support and remember WE NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER pic.twitter.com/QqJ2vujqJG— Karolina Pliskova (@KaPliskova) July 10, 2021
Pliskova was asked whether her Wimbledon breakthrough was an important stepping stone to her Grand Slam quest.
"I would say very important, but it's not that I would never believe," she said. "Of course, me personally, with my game, with my team right now, with all the people which I really care about around me, I always believe in that.
"But I think many people, they don't. So I think that's why sometimes it's been difficult. Of course, you can't always play well. To find that balance in all those things - people not believing you, maybe not playing at your best for a couple of weeks - it's sometimes difficult."
Pliskova hopes her success over the fortnight will quiet the doubters. The only voice that matters is her own.
"Definitely now I have more trust, more belief, more of everything to go in the next Grand Slams," she said. "Also it's been a while since I was actually in the second week of the Grand Slam.
"So I just hope everything's going to be a bit better now, all the tournaments, and let's see what's going to be in the US Open. There's still a chance. I played the final there, so it's not impossible."