In her exclusive WTA column, the two-time French Open champion discusses the Czech's improvement on clay. She also reveals her trick for telling the Pliskova twins apart.
Martina Navratilova
May 4, 2018

Even on clay, Karolina Pliskova's got so much power that she can just hit through people. That power brought her the title in Stuttgart and it makes my fellow Czech a contender for the French Open. 

With the higher bounce on clay, and her height, the trajectory of Pliskova's serve is really tough for her opponents to deal with, especially when she hits the kick serve. It's very hard for any returner to climb on top of that serve which means that Pliskova's not at all vulnerable on her second serve and her first serve is a big weapon. 

Karolina Pliskova (Getty)
Pliskova serves (Getty)

The bounce on clay is also ideal for her groundstrokes, as she likes the ball a bit higher in her strike zone. Clay is slow enough to allow her to get set for her shots, but fast enough that she can make use of her power and hit through people. Like Stuttgart, the clay at the French Open plays fast so Karolina’s power will pay off nicely on the Parisian courts. 

With Pliskova's game translating so well to clay, it's a matter of not making too many errors. The way Pliskova plays, she's going to hit her share of winners. If the ratio between winners and unforced errors is good enough, she should win a huge majority of her matches.

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The biggest difference between Roland Garros and Stuttgart is that she will have to win seven matches, rather than five. And that's where the inconsistency in her game could be her undoing. She's going to have an off-day in Paris, as will everyone else going deep in the draw. Question is, how bad is that off-day going to be? Her off-days tend to be more 'off' than other players - her margin for error isn't that big because of her stroke production. She doesn't put that much spin on the ball which then means she doesn't have that much clearance over the net, making things a bit more risky.

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Playing indoors in Stuttgart, Pliskova didn't have to deal with the elements, and everything was nice and steady. In Paris, where she will be exposed to the elements, she might find herself playing on windy days when the ball will be flying for her. It's much harder to control the ball in the wind when you don't put much spin on it. Plus, she's tall, and the wind is always more of a problem for taller players as it's harder to adjust your position when the ball is moving around. Pliskova also plays close to the lines, which is another reason why wind could be a problem for her. So hopefully it will be calm and still for her in Paris. 

One other thing that could count against Pliskova at the French Open is rain. When the clay and the balls are wet, conditions become slow and heavy and that won't work in her favour. 

You sometimes get these funny days at the French Open - you can get them at the other majors, too, but these weird days just seem more awkward in Paris than in Melbourne, London or New York. It's when you end up playing an important match in front of about 12 people plus the ushers. It's drizzling, it's late, it's getting dark, and you don't really want to be out on court. On top of that, your opponent's psyched and has the chance to beat a top player. How will Pliskova deal with one of those days? That's going to be interesting. But I like her demeanour on court. She's fiery inside but stays calm. 

Karolina Pliskova takes on CoCo Vandeweghe on Sunday (Getty)
Karolina Pliskova (Getty)

As an aside, in Czech you have the respectful way of speaking to your elders or the more familiar way with friends. I've spoken to Karolina Pliskova enough times to make her the offer of speaking in the familiar form. She's very polite and respectful and used to call me "Mrs Navratilova" but these days she calls me "Martina".  In fact, this is now how I can tell easily tell Karolina Pliskova and her sister Kristyna apart. Kristyna still treats me like an elder, addressing me as "Mrs Navratilova". Oh well.