2019 Italian Open Women's Singles Final: Karolina Pliskova vs Johanna Konta, Preview and Prediction
On the face of things, the odds appear to be heavily stacked against Konta ahead of this affair. She has won only one in her six meetings against Pliskova and was defeated in straight-sets during their only previous clay court encounter.
Konta with another tricky test
Traditionally, clay has been Konta's worst surface on tour. In addition, her form and overall ranking has been in free-fall for more than a year now. Despite making it to a couple of finals, she is still yet to win a title since 2017.
However, what will provide her with confidence is the fact she is playing perhaps the best clay court tennis of her career right now. In Rome, she has got the better of players considered more adept on the surface to her, including Sloane Stephens and Kiki Bertens.
What is even more encouraging from her perspective is that she won both matches after going down a set, which proves she has her mental focus on track. Although her serve has not been the best at times, her return game has kept her in tough matches and has ultimately helped her to hard-fought victories.
Against Bertens in the semi-finals, she won 52 points on return - eight more than Bertens - who is widely considered as one of the best returners in the women's game at present.
Konta's keys to success
She must continue that form with her return game in the final against a player with one of the most destructive serves on the WTA Tour. Despite reaching the Miami Open Final, Karolina too has not enjoyed the best of times - until now. In Rome, she has looked somewhat closer to her best level.
Quite dominant during her victory over Maria Sakkari in the semi-final, she won close to 80% of first-serve points. However, Konta should also note that despite serving so well, Pliskova only lost her serve once throughout.
When put under pressure, Pliskova's flat and hard serve can crack. That is exactly what Konta should target, making her opponent feel uncomfortable and applying constant pressure to increase her unforced error count. She should look to emulate Ashleigh Barty, who used her variety to frustrate Pliskova into committing errors in Miami - though time will tell as to whether Konta can deliver a similar style and variety with her shot selection.
Prediction: Pliskova to win in three sets