CINCINNATI, OH, USA - Karolina Pliskova isn't one to do things halfway. That's not how she plays her tennis and it's not how she's gone about her career. The 24-year-old Czech blitzed the field at the Western & Southern Open last week, capping off a dominant run with a 6-3, 6-1 win over No. Angelique Kerber in the final to win the biggest title of her career. And she's not done yet.
Pliskova's 2016 season has not matched the consistency of her breakout 2015, which saw her soar from outside the Top 20 to a career-high of No.7. She finished last season by making the final at the Huajin Securities WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai, finishing the season having played the most matches of anyone on the WTA tour.
Yet despite that consistency, Pliskova was not satisfied. She lost two tough three-set finals to Kerber at big Premier events in Eastbourne and Stanford. She consistently made the business end of tour events but couldn't make it into the second week at the majors. Talking to Pliskova throughout last year, it was clear she was pleased with her season but something was missing.
The thing that was missing was a big title or signature win. Pliskova crossed both off the list in Cincinnati. She came into the tournament having never beaten a Top 5 player at a tour event. She proceeded to beat two, losing just four games each to Garbiñe Muguruza in the semifinal and Kerber in the final. With much of the discussion ahead of Sunday's final concerning Kerber's quest for No.1, few were paying attention to Pliskova, who was on fire all week.
"There is - I would say 99% of the players - I can beat all of them if I play good tennis. But it's not always [that I play well]," Pliskova said after beating Muguruza 6-1, 6-3 on Saturday. "But with this victory, even it was a little bit easier than I was expecting, I believe I can win a big tournaments and even Slams later in my life."
Pliskova got better and better with each match she played in Cincinnati. She skipped the Olympic tennis event in order to focus on her tennis, using the two weeks off as a heavy training block that has left her fitter and more focused.
"Definitely this tournament gave me a lot of confidence," Pliskova said. "I beat the last three rounds very dangerous and very good players. I feel very good now, especially on the hard court. I have enough matches. That's what counts before US Open."
WTA Insider sat down with Pliskova after her big win.
WTA Insider: How does it feel to win the biggest title of your career?
Pliskova: I mean, it feels amazing. I've played a few big finals so far and lost them - two of them, actually, were to Angie. So I'm really happy to take this third one, especially here in Cincinnati at such a big tournament.
WTA Insider: When you arrived, obviously you've played here before, but you have to had known that these conditions suit you.
Pliskova: I knew it, and I played some good tennis last year as well. Unfortunately, I didn't get as far as this year, but I'm really happy that my tennis here was good. I've played some good matches against top players, which always counts - especially for the next tournaments, as well. These conditions, I knew they were going to suit me, and I'm really happy I took the title this year.
WTA Insider: A year ago, you're losing these sorts of matches to Kerber, both on grass and hardcourt. This year you turned it around in a really straightforward way. How different is the Karolina Pliskova of 2016 compared to 2015?
Pliskova: Definitely I have some new experience in these finals, especially against her. It was always close, very close, and I could have beaten her either of those times. It wasn't just about her; I knew if I played good tennis, the kind I played this week, that I could beat her. It happened today because I was aggressive enough and serving well. It happened.
WTA Insider: You said earlier this week that people have said your season hasn't been as great as last year, but you've thought this year was better. Why do you think that?
Pliskova: Last year was totally different than this year. This year, I've had some ups and downs while last year was more solid, and I didn't lose early at too many tournaments. It was different, but this year I've played bigger tournaments and bigger matches. I won a few, lost a few, and this one is just the biggest of my career so far.
I'm just happy that it happened this year, because so many people were saying this year has been so bad, and, 'You have been playing so bad,' and everything like this. So I'm just happy even for those people, that they can see I can still win something.
WTA Insider: In one way, yes, last year was very consistent, but this year you reached bigger peaks and highs. The way you play tennis, one might think you prefer this season a little more, where you go for the big shots, and it's not so much about consistency.
Pliskova: Definitely, it's not my style just to defend. I'm really happy with this title because always - well, not always - I lost in finals, and this shows I can still play good tennis in a final. I definitely prefer this.
WTA Insider: We're heading to New York in a couple of weeks; what is your relationship with New York? Do you like it? Is it too much? How do you feel about it?
Pliskova: After this week, I'm not going to think about New York yet, but obviously it's the last Grand Slam of the season, and I just want to play the type of tennis I played this week here, there. It doesn't matter if I win or lose, but as long as I stick to the game plan I had here, I believe I can have good results, even there.
WTA Insider: How different do you find the conditions there compared to Cincinnati?
Pliskova: The balls are different; that's what I remember. They fly more here. Last year, I didn't play much there; it was really terrible for me, there. Definitely, it can only be better this year. I'd like to gain. But I think the conditions everywhere here are pretty hot and humid, so it's going to fly a lot. It can be similar to here.
WTA Insider: When we talked earlier in the week, I assumed you'd taken those weeks off from Rio to relax and rest. That wasn't what you did; you hit the practice courts and the gym a lot harder. Obviously it's paid off, but does that change how you see things moving forward, that you want to take more of these breaks to prepare for the bigger tournaments?
Pliskova: To be honest, I got a lot of ugly messages because I withdrew from Rio. A lot of people in Czech didn't take it the right way, the way I took it. But now I'm really happy the way it paid off; I wasn't just on the beach somewhere, I was practicing. I'm happy it paid off and how it helped me prepare for here and this tournament.
WTA Insider: How do you plan to celebrate in Cincinnati?
Pliskova: Definitely, some good dinner, and I have three guys with me, so we're going to have a small party.
WTA Insider: Like a steakhouse? That's probably where they'd want to go.
Pliskova: Probably, but we have to go somewhere where they have beer, because they love that.
WTA Insider: When you're a week away from a tournament, and here you played very deep and played a good number of matches. Do you take time to enjoy New York? Or do you get back on the court right away?
Pliskova: I'm going to have one or two days off for sure; maybe I'll do some fitness stuff just to stay fit and stay still in the game. I'm withdrawing from New Haven, so I'm just going to get ready for New York the way I did for this tournament.
Listen to more from Pliskova in the latest episode of the WTA Insider Podcast:
All photos courtesy of Getty Images.