ROME, Italy - Former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova captured the biggest clay court title of her career at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Sunday, dispatching Johanna Konta, 6-3, 6-4 at the Foro Italico.
A semifinalist at Roland Garros in 2017, Pliskova not only became the first Czech woman to win in Rome since Regina Marsikova in 1978, but also provsionally assured herself of a Top 2 seeding at the second major tournament of the season thanks to a one hour and 25 minute victory on Court Centrale.
"It feels great, especially since nobody really gave me a chance for this tournament, even, I think, me," Pliskova said in her post-victory press conference. "Before the tournament, I was not super confident, not thinking about the final at all. I was just happy with every match I played.
"So it's little bit like a miracle for me because clay, this tournament, since I haven't played well here, and on clay it's always tough. I played some good clay court girls. Of course, I'm super happy."
Pliskova had won five of her six previous meetings with Konta - herself in the midst of a revival on what has traditionally been her least successful surface, reaching the Grand Prix de SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem final in Rabat - but the two hadn't played since 2016, where the two-time Grand Slam semifinalist beat the Czech for the first time at the China Open.
"There's rarely really a rhythm to the match," Konta explained after the match. "She plays with big shots, quite flat, and big serves. It can feel sometimes you're fighting an uphill battle. That was the case today.
"I just thought she didn't really have a letdown throughout the match. She played very consistently. I found it quite hard to get a footing into the match, which is credit to her."
Bouyed by a revenge win over rival Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals - who beat her at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix two weeks ago - three-time WTA Ace Leader enjoyed a quick start to Sunday's final, winning the first three games and holding onto that lone service break to take the opening set.
"I didn't have that many matches on clay before [this week], which is always the key for me to feel better, to feel more confident. When I'm winning, everything is going easy, I'm playing without thinking, which is the best.
"I was coming to this tournament just to get couple of matches. I've always thought the tournament is quite slow here, so that's why I just felt like maybe there is not many chances for me. Last year, the final was Simona-Svitolina, all the good clay court girls with good clay court games. I thought it's going to be quite difficult to get through some matches."
Konta, who stunned Mutua Madrid Open champion Kiki Bertens in the semifinals, began getting into the match on the back end of the opening set, holding a break point as Pliskova served for it, and held firm early in the second.
Things only got closer as Pliskova edged towards victory, winning a marathon seventh game to break with a swinging forehand volley. She then outbattled the Brit to consolidate in the very next game - even after squandering an initial 40-0 lead.
Serving for the title, the No.4 seed kicked off proceedings with a fifth ace. Konta responded with an authoritative rally, but soon found herself down two championship points. Though she saved both - the second with a strong cross court play - Pliskova quickly engineered a third after tracking a drop shot, which she converted for her 13th career title, and second on clay.
It was a picture perfect match from Pliskova, statistically speaking; with coach and four-time Rome champion Conchita Martinez looking on, the Czech powerhouse struck 21 winners to just 14 unforced errors - hitting just five in the first set - while maintaining a 74% first serve percentage and winning 73% of those points.
"I have to go like this because otherwise there is no reason to go at all," she said of her Roland Garros mindset. "If I go to lose, then you going to lose. I have to go with this mindset that my game is good on clay, too.
"I want to put 100% into it and to give myself a chance to go deep in the tournament. Of course, everything starts in the first round. You can have tough opponents. It doesn't mean that I won here, so I have to go far in Paris. There is still seven matches, so it's two more than here."