The soon-to-be World No. 1 Angelique Kerber and 10th seed Karolina Pliskova put up a show of guts and desire as the second-seeded German prevailed over the Czech 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 to win the US Open title at New York on Saturday. This is Kerber’s first win at the Flushing Meadows and her second Grand Slam title of the year after having earlier triumphed at the Australian Open.
As for Pliskova, who upset the top seed Serena Williams in the semi-finals, this was the first time ever that she was in a Major final.
The southpaw was down a break in the final set from where she made a stunning comeback to seal the win in 2 hours 7 minutes.
Kerber and Pliskova had met seven times before this match with the German having a slight lead of 4-3 in their head-to-head meetings. Even though Grand Slam final debutante Pliskova had won their most recent showdown in the Cincinnati final, Kerber was the favourite to win this battle having more experience of playing at the biggest stages.
As expected, Kerber was the one to put pressure early on Pliskova. By moving the 6’1’’ Czech around the court even before she had managed to settle into the match, the Australian Open champion struck early to secure a break in the very first game.
The 10th seed looked to have shaken off the setback as she started making forays into the forecourt immediately afterwards. Her aggressive returns helped her to close in to deuce but the German held on to surge ahead 2-0.
Pliskova earned her first chance to break back in the fourth game but failed to make a breakthrough due to her mounting unforced errors. Her inability to capitalize on her three break opportunities came back to haunt her as the second seed refused to back off from her attacking display.
Showing the mentality of a world’s top-ranked player which is set to become soon, Kerber held on with clutch serves despite some fantastic returns from her younger opponent. With the World No. 11 serving to stay in the set at 4-5, Kerber raised her level further.
Early returns from her racquet put Pliskova in a spot who struggled to handle their pace and timing. With the 10th seed reeling, the German earned a set point and converted it with her signature forehand down-the line winner to inch ahead 6-3.
At the end of the first set, the difference in error count between the two was glaring. While Pliskova committed as many as 17 unforced errors, Kerber kept it a paltry 3.
Two of the last three finals that these two players contested went the distance. Thus, it would not have been unrealistic to expect a bit more firepower from the Czech and stretch this match to the decider.
At 1-1, the 10th seed produced a stunning angular backhand return that helped her to get a break point against the German. But just like the opening set, a combination of Kerber’s first serves and errors from Pliskova kept the Czech away from converting a break point.
Unfazed, the Cincinnati champion continued to push and made it another deuce game on Kerber’s serve at 2-2 but there was still no break of serve.
Pliskova’s relentless efforts finally paid off in the seventh game. After going 0/4 on break points, the Czech started being more demonstrative and far more aggressive than before. Her backhands which had so far been her biggest weapon, was in full flow as she secured yet another break point and this time, she made use of it with a fabulous lob.
She then consolidated it to edge ahead 5-3 as Kerber started feeling the pressure.
Looking more relaxed, Pliskova grabbed her big opportunity to serve out the second set 6-4 and enforce a decider.
The body language of both the players changed completely in the decider. Pliskova was the one now bubbling with confidence while her more accomplished rival was the one looking confused and frustrated. Their play reflected it as well.
This time it was the turn of Pliskova to up the intensity and thoroughly dictate the proceedings. Kerber crumbled under pressure to concede a vital break in the third game.
Calm and collected, Pliskova capitalized on it and jumped out to a 3-1 advantage.
However, this is just the first time that the 24-year-old was playing at such a stage and maintaining the lead was always going to be an arduous task. She gave up her serve in the sixth game as her backhand landed in the tramlines. Kerber was back in it at 3-3.
With the kind of stupendous effort that she put up against Serena in the Melbourne Park final this year, a comeback from Kerber was always on the cards. Her trademark lefty forehand down-the-line winners were visible once more and so was her belief.
It was the second seed now who had the slight advantage as she took a 4-3 lead.
Pliskova’s usually reliable first serve percentage started dropping below 60% and panic was writ large upon her face. Yet, she found out a way to hold on for 4-4.
The young Czech could not do it much longer as she got broken to love in her very next service game, gifting Kerber the US Open title.