EASTBOURNE, Great Britain -- 2017 champion Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic has made her way into the Nature Valley International final for the third time in the last four years after dispatching Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands, 6-1, 6-2, in a swift semifinal encounter.
Pliskova and Bertens, two Top 5 players who are the ace leaders on the WTA this season, had evenly split their four previous meetings, although Bertens had won their last two tilts -- one of which being their only prior clash on grass, in the fourth round of Wimbledon last year. Nevertheless, Pliskova claimed a commanding, 56-minute win at Eastbourne on Friday.
"I think I was just playing much better than last year, more free, and just went for it a little bit more," Pliskova said, during her post-match press conference. "So really, [Bertens] was always under pressure and I was just always attacking, even though she can still serve well at some points. But I was just coming to the net a little bit more than I was last year, so I think I just used my game better than I did last year against her."
The victory continues a stellar run for second-seeded Pliskova at Eastbourne this week, as the World No.3 has not dropped a set thus far. The Czech hit 21 winners to just seven unforced errors during the semifinal, and never faced a break point en route to her victory.
"I think always when you make the quick break, which I always did in these matches which I was playing here, it kind of helped, and then I'm just able to hold my serve quite easily sometimes, although the serve was not the best today," Pliskova stated. "But I felt like I was hitting fine."
World No.4 Bertens, seeded third this week, did well to reach the Eastbourne semifinals for the first time, but was undone by 16 unforced errors, compared to just nine winners. The Dutchwoman could only win two out of 22 points on the Pliskova first serve throughout the match.
Pliskova will meet reigning Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber of Germany in the final. No.4 seed Kerber, a two-time Eastbourne runner-up seeking her first Nature Valley International title, moved into the championship match after her semifinal opponent, Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, withdrew from their match due to injury.
Kerber leads their head-to-head 7-4. The German also won their only prior match on grass, the Birmingham final in 2015, which was decided by a final-set tiebreak.
"I think, you know, [Kerber is] tough, she's lefty," said Pliskova. "On grass obviously she's feeling maybe the best. But I beat her before. We played once on grass, I think. You know, I have to look maybe back on that match and just to get the positives out of it and let's see."
Pliskova dominated the first-set proceedings, with 11 winners and only 4 unforced errors. The Czech fired a forehand winner to earn an early service break and lead 2-0, then powered through a difficult, multiple-deuce service game to reach 3-0. Bertens held with ease to get on the scoreboard at 3-1, but it would be smooth sailing for Pliskova in the remainder of the opener.
At 4-1, Pliskova deftly dropped a forehand volley smack on the sideline to obtain a third break point of that game, which was converted after a Bertens backhand error into the net. Pliskova had no trouble serving out the opening frame at 5-1, reaching triple set point with a forehand winner. The Czech only needed one more point, sealing the set with an ace.
Pliskova kept her momentum rolling as the second set commenced, again earning an early break by slamming a backhand winner down the line to lead 2-1. The Czech went up a double-break at 4-1 as she edged closer to victory.
Serving at 5-1, Bertens was able to pick up another hold and extend the match, but Pliskova would not be deterred on the day. At 5-2, Pliskova eased to double match point, and though Bertens forced an error with a strong service return on the Czech’s first opportunity, a netted return on Pliskova’s second chance put the former World No.1 into another Eastbourne final.
"I played a couple times good here at Eastbourne and not always I was playing well in Wimbledon," Pliskova said, when asked about next week's Grand Slam event. "But for sure it's a good start, so I don't want to really think about Wimby right now. I want to finish my job here and then I go there. But I feel like it's all about the confidence. If I'm feeling well, I can also continue to play the same tennis there."