The match time had surpassed the three-hour mark when Karolina Pliskova broke Karolina Muchova’s serve. That too at the opportune moment. All of a sudden, with the third set score at 11-10, the World No 3 had been given a second chance to serve for the match, and for a place in the Wimbledon quarter-final.
The better-known Pliskova has a strong reputation on the tennis tour. At 6’1, she is among the bigger servers in the women’s game – her most potent weapon. And she follows it up admirably with her powerful groundstrokes and can be quite handy at the net. To sum it up, she has the game and the skills to hurt anyone on her day. But Pliskova, whose twin Kristyna also plays on the women’s tour, has been underwhelming at the Slams. Outwardly calm, perhaps too calm, the Czech is prone to big-match nerves.
And on Monday night, on Court No 2, when Pliskova served for the match for the second time, she was broken at love, serving a double fault at 0-40. She’d then lose the next two games against her unfancied compatriot who happily accepted the 4-6, 7-5, 13-11 scoreline after three hours and 17 minutes, for a maiden spot in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.
In fact, every step the 22-year-old Muchova has taken in London has been a first. This has been only the fourth Grand Slam appearance for the Czech, having made her debut in the main draw of a major at the US Open last year. On that occasion, she rose from the qualifiers and beat two-time Slam champion Garbine Muguruza in the second round. She had to work through the qualifiers again at the Australian Open, before setting up a clash with Pliskova in the first round.
But her luck changed in May. The veteran Czech Lucie Safarova declined a farewell wild card entry into the Prague Open, allowing Muchova a spot in the main draw. And the youngster, whose father Josef Mucha is a former top-flight footballer, took full advantage by storming through to the final. That run itself saw her break into the top 100 for the first time.
Now she sits on 68, and is destined to go higher up after ousting the 20th seed Anett Kontaveit. The Czech No 6 was high on confidence and momentum, but there was still a lot to be done if she had to get past the rampant Pliskova.
The 27-year-old, who was gunning to regain the World No 1 spot, had dropped just one set en route to the fourth round – when she lost the second to the tricky Su Wei Hsieh in her previous match.
“I think there is nothing worse than today,” she had said after that match. “It doesn’t matter what’s going to happen (against Muchova). For sure, I will feel better.”
And it certainly seemed to be going that way at the end of the first set. The last time the pair had met, in Melbourne, Pliskova took just 69 minutes to send her countrywoman packing. She seemed to be well on course to repeat the feat, only for her nerves to kick in, and Muchova to start making some crucial adjustments.
In the second, Muchova had more forays up to the net, winning nine of her 12 attempts (in the first set she won two of her four). She’d also started taking the ball earlier, denying Pliskova the time to reload another return.
It’s that urgency in play that prompted errors when Pliskova served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, and denied her the chance to convert break point opportunities at 5-5 and twice at 8-8 in the third set.
Pliskova did get the break finally at 10-10, but then lost the next three games, the match, and arguably her best chance at making it to the Wimbledon quarter-final for the first time in her career.
“I think I had a lot of chances,” she said after the match. “I think I was not playing the best tennis, for sure, not today. My serve was totally, not totally, but quite off. I think she (Muchova) just played good. She had nothing to lose, so some shots were quite understandable. She just went for it.”
Till date, Pliskova’s best run at a Grand Slam was at the 2016 US Open, when she fell to Angelique Kerber in the final. At the Australian Open quarter-final earlier this year, she survived four match points before beating Serena Williams in three sets, only to lose another three-setter to eventual winner Naomi Osaka.
But at Wimbledon, Osaka had already been ousted, so had Kerber and World No 1 Ashleigh Barty before Pliskova took to the outer court. And the Czech had the momentum and expectations to make it big this time around, especially since she won the pre-Wimbledon tune-up at Eastbourne – beating Kerber in the final. But the tall Czech with a blockbuster game flattered to deceive yet again.
“A little bit unlucky,” she thought. “But that's how it is.”
Updated Date: Jul 09, 2019 12:39:05 IST