CINCINNATI, OH, USA – Following a couple of semifinal masterclasses, Angelique Kerber and Karolina Pliskova go into Sunday’s Western & Southern Open final on top of their game. Here are 10 of SAP’s finest facts ahead of their summer showdown…
(2) Angelique Kerber (GER #2) vs Karolina Pliskova (CZE #17)
Head-To-Head: Kerber leads, 4-2
1) Pliskova has historically proven to be a difficult foe for Kerber.
Despite sitting 15 places above Pliskova in the rankings, Kerber has struggled in their previous match-ups. While several of these came prior to Pliskova establishing herself at the top of the game, the recent encounters have invariably been close. This is also the third straight time they have clashed in a final, following three-set victories for the German last year in Birmingham and Stanford.
2) Both players no stranger to the business end of tournaments.
Since those encounters one summer ago, both Kerber and Pliskova have been regular finalists. Pliskova lost out in a high-quality shoot-out with Venus Williams at the season-ending WTA Elite Trophy, then enjoyed mixed fortunes at the grass court events in Nottingham and Eastbourne this June. Kerber, meanwhile has mixed it at a higher level, most memorably beating Serena Williams at the Australian Open to lift her maiden Grand Slam. She followed this up with a title in Stuttgart before going on to contest the finals at Wimbledon and the Rio Olympics.
3) The form guide.
After a slight lull following January’s Australian Open triumph, Kerber has enjoyed a productive summer, appearing in the Wimbledon and Olympic finals, winning 19 of her past 22 matches. Pliskova’s campaign, on the other hand, has been more of an up and down affair, standout performances in Nottingham, Eastbourne and Indian Wells (where she ran Victoria Azarenka close in the semifinals) interspersed with several surprise losses and her continued search for a breakthrough at one of the four majors.
4) Flying the flag.
Since its return to the circuit in 2003, players from seven different countries (Belarus, Belgium, China, Russia, Serbia, Switzerland and the USA) have been crowned Cincinnati champion. The closest a Czech or German came during this time was Kerber’s loss to Li Na in the 2012 final, so the number is guaranteed to rise to eight.
5) Outsider for the title.
World No.17 Pliskova is bidding to become the first player ranked outside the Top 10 to triumph at the Lindner Family Tennis center since No.21 Nadia Petrova in 2008.
6) Change in Cincinnati fortunes.
Aside from her visits to the final this year and in 2012, Kerber has struggled to make an impression in Cincinnati, winning a combined total of four matches from her other four visits. Pliskova’s resume was even barer, losing her second match in 2015 after falling in qualifying the previous three years.
7) Cincinnati will have a significant impact on the WTA rankings.
Victory for Kerber on Sunday will see her end Serena Williams’ 183-week reign atop the rankings. She will be the 22nd woman to reach World No.1 and first German since the legendary Steffi Graf. Pliskova’s run, meanwhile, guarantees she will rise to at least No.15, and No.11 should she lift the title.
8) Path to the final.
After edging past Barbora Strycova in two closely contested sets, Kerber’s No.1 hopes looked to be fizzling out when she trailed quarterfinal opponent Carla Suárez Navarro by a set and a break. Somehow she escaped before ending Simona Halep’s 13-match winning streak in the semifinals. Pliskova has also dropped just the one set, against Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarterfinals, on an otherwise serene journey to the final.
9) Hard to beat.
Bother finalists have enjoyed some of the sweetest – as well as heartbreaking – moments of their career on hardcourts. This will be Kerber’s 15th final on hard (she was victorious in five of the previous 14), while nine of Pliskova’s 15 finals have come on the surface, winning three of them.
10) Pliskova serving notice.
Pliskova progress has been helped by some particularly potent serving. In four matches she has fired 40 aces and been broken just four times. Kerber, by contrast, has hit seven aces and lost her serve 10 times.