No.2 seed Karolina Pliskova dug out a tense opening set to outlast No.28 seed Caroline Garcia, 7-6(3), 6-4, to not only reach her second Grand Slam semifinal out of the last three, but also put herself one match win away from the No.1 ranking.
“I didn’t change anything much,” Pliskova said after the match. “Before this tournament I was struggling on clay with almost everything. I didn’t have my weapons on my side and the movement was terrible.
“I don’t think it’s better, but somehow I’m just winning. Today I can finally say I felt a little bit better on the court compared to the last matches.”
Both women were in the midst of career-best stretches in Paris, neither having made it past the second round in a combined 11 previous appearances. But Pliskova has quickly become a force at the majors since finishing runner-up at the US Open, and that three-set win over Veronica Cepede Royg put her into her third straight Grand Slam quarterfinal.
“Nothing comes easy. Maybe some players who’s playing the first Grand Slam in their life can go far. But with me, it was just different. So I had to first play a few more before I could go far.
“So with all the Grand Slams so far, even Australia, US Open, even here, it took me some time. I’m just happy that I’m there now.”
Garcia had long struggled with the pressure of playing at home, but a decisive win over Alizé Cornet seemed to give her renewed confidence as she pushed Pliskova to the brink in each of the two sets they played.
“I’m happy the way I entered on court, and how I played the match on the big moments. In the past, in the big tournaments, it was like I was not playing. So I was leaving court frustrated because I didn’t know what to improve because I didn’t play. I didn’t give 100%.
“There is always some disappointment and everything, but I played, I gave everything I had and I fought until the end. That’s what I’ll remember.”
Down 3-5 to start the match, the Frenchwoman saved a set point and dug out of a titanic 11th game to ultimately force a tiebreak. Unfortunately for Garcia, Pliskova proved unflappable even on her least favorite surface on Wednesday, and made it through six straight mini-breaks in the sudden death to reclaim the momentum after over an hour on Court Philippe Chatrier.
“It looks like I’m relaxed. I saw myself on TV. But sometimes inside it’s not like this. But I’m just trying to not show any emotion, especially on those big points.”
Pliskova may be known for her aggressive tendencies, but put together a clean match from start to finish as Garcia gunned for winners. Striking four fewer than her French opposition (29 to 25), the World No.3 hit half as many unforced errors (13 to 31), and kept control of her serve throughout the second set before breaking for the win on her first opportunity.
“I think it was fine,” she said of the crowd. “Maybe because it was so close, and I was winning from the beginning, then I made the first set. Maybe because of that.
“Or maybe they just like me.”
Trailing in aces for most of the match, Pliskova even turned that stat around, finishing with one more (eight to seven), and dropped just 10 points behind her first serve in the one hour, 51 minute affair.
“I think my serve was quite good today. Definitely a lot of free points from the serve, few aces, and I think that was the key. She served good, as well, but it was about few points. The first set unlucky for her, but I think I was a little bit better.
“The conditions were not easy. The wind was changing so much. So there was not many rallies, long rallies, but it was just a different game today.”
Up next for Pliskova is No.3 seed Simona Halep in what may be Round 1 in the Battle for World No.1.
“We’ve played few times. It’s definitely is gonna be tough. She’s running well. I don’t know the weather forecast for tomorrow. If it’s like this, it’s gonna be tricky, because she’s almost everywhere and not missing much.
“I think I’ll have to be more aggressive than I was today, because today was more about, I would say, Caro being aggressive, and then only sometimes me. But with Simona, I have to be more aggressive, go into her serve a little bit and put pressure on her. And still to be able to hold my serve, that’s going to be the key.
“I’m just gonna try to play like I have nothing to lose. I’m in the semifinals. I’ll just try to play my best tennis this time.”