NEW YORK, NY, USA - Former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova will face 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams at the US Open for a second time in three years. Their last meeting came under the lights on Arthur Ashe Stadium, with the three-time WTA Ace Leader emerging victorious to make her first Grand Slam final.
"I really was feeling great that year," Pliskova recalled after a straight-set win over Aussie Ashleigh Barty. "I'm feeling great now, too, but it was a little bit of a different story in 2016. I was a dark horse. Nobody was expecting me to get that far, but I just went on the court just to get the win.
"It was not about me just going out and enjoying or just wanting to go and win some games against her. I know she was the best at that time, but I just wanted to win. That's why I won, because I believed I have a chance."
Less than a year after that breakthrough win, Pliskova ascended to the top of the rankings and reached another Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros. Serena broke Stefanie Graf's Open Era record at the 2017 Australian Open and briefly left tennis to marry and give birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Jr. Plenty has changed, but Pliskova's motivation is as high as ever.
"I have a game to beat her. That's what I would like to do if she's there this time. I know she has a big game, but I have a big game too. I have a good serve. So I have some weapons, too. So, for sure, there is always a chance for me."
Serena was equally complimentary of her Czech rival following her fourth round win over former World No.15 Kaia Kanepi.
"She came out strong and she came out very well," she said on Sunday. "I have watched her a great deal since then. I have taken a lot from that match and I think we are in different positions now.
"It will be an interesting match. Her serve is strong. She has a really good forehand. In fact, she doesn't do a lot of things bad. She was No.1 last year, so she got there for a reason. She has a lot of strong parts to her game."
Pliskova initially struggled to find her best tennis in such important moments, losing before the second week in her first 17 Grand Slam appearances.
"Now it's easy!" she joked, having made the fourth round or better in seven of her last nine majors.
"It's about the experience. I'm feeling much better now, even though the pressure is still there. I just feel like I'm handling those situations much better. I know how it is to be in the final or the second weeks of Grand Slams. So that's what makes me confident that I can do it again."
Consistency outside the majors has been harder to have this season, winning just one title at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. However, Pliskova's latest coaching combination of former WTA stars Rennae Stubbs and Conchita Martinez has paid dividends thus far in Flushing.
Decked out in a star-spangled Fila kit that screams 'My Country 'Tis of Thee,' the 26-year-old has won three straight two-set matches for the first time since the Australian Open in January.
"They’re both trying to bring something different," she explained on Wednesday after beating Ana Bogdan. "Rennae played great doubles so she wants me to go to the net more often. Conchita won Wimbledon, and she was a great player from the baseline. We try to work on everything, but it’s still about my game so they don’t want me to change too much.
"They want me to be aggressive, and they’re both positive. It’s working very well."
At home in New York City, Pliskova has typically taken in a Broadway show for each summer spent in the city. Aiming to add Pretty Woman to a list that already includes Phantom of the Opera, The Lion King, and Chicago, the Czech admittedly finds herself more focused with every match she wins.
"I had two hours of practice yesterday," she beamed. "I've been pretty much here. You spend two, three hours in the car every day, which is almost half of the day. Then I'm on court. I'm doing my warm-ups, and I'm having some regeneration. It's a lot of things, so right now it's about the tournament."