The Western & Southern Open final in Cincinnati will take place on Sunday at 2pm local time between the number two seed, Angelique Kerber and the number 15 seed, Karolina Pliskova. A win for Kerber will see her go to world number one…
Expectations for Cincy were perhaps muted for Kerber following a gruelling week in Rio where she took home the Silver medal in singles. However Kerber has fought exceptionally well to reach the final. The German player snapped the 13 match winning streak of Simona Halep on Saturday with a 6-3 6-4 semi-final victory. It certainly wasn’t a classic by any means but Kerber produced a significantly improved display from her quarter-final against Carla Suárez Navarro. On the resumption after a rain delay with Kerber leading 4-3 in the first set, she ran away with the next six games.
Halep was committing a whole host of unforced errors as she produced a whopping 50 (!)in the entire match. Halep had recovered from a 0-4 first set deficit against Agnieszka Radwanska in the quarter-finals and was well on her way to repeating that feat, holding a break point to level up at 4-4 in the second set. Kerber though refocused and held on for the monumental win, booking her place in her second Cincy final and one match away from a quite remarkable achievement.
Pliskova is enjoying her best week of the year as she sailed past Garbiñe Muguruza in a semi-final snooze-fest of a contest, 6-1 6-3. This is a great match-up for Pliskova as her serve often comes up trumps. She unsettled Muguruza with her depth on return, but also some tricky slices. Muguruza threatened a comeback as she went up a break in the second set but this lasted all of three minutes as Pliskova broke straight back, winning the last four games of the match.
Head-to-head record: Kerber leads Pliskova, 4-2 in their head-to-head. Their last two encounters were in Premier finals in 2015 and both went the distance. Kerber won in Birmingham (6-7(7) 6-3 7-6(4)) and Stanford (6-3 5-7 6-4). The pair will be playing for the first time in 2016.
Interesting stat: Pliskova’s win over Muguruza was her best EVER win on the WTA tour. While she has beaten Halep in Fed Cup action, remarkably it was her first top five win on the WTA tour.
Final thoughts: There is so much up for grabs in this Cincy final not just for Kerber but Pliskova too. I felt like this match-up was a mental stumbling block for Pliskova in 2015 and their finals in Birmingham and Stanford, while both very close, were a contributing factor to her poor performances after Stanford. With the prospect of playing Kerber again in a Premier final, this will be a key match for Pliskova to prove herself and potentially win the biggest title of her career.
Most of the emphasis will be on Kerber though and I think she’s done so well just to reach this final having looked exhausted in her quarter-final match. It has been the mental aspect of her game that has improved leaps and bounds in 2016 and she is arguably enjoying her most consistent run of the entire year with her ability of gutting out wins and playing the big points well. I also love the injections of variety and her drop shot has been one of the most improved shots of the year… it rarely fails to find the mark.
Pliskova is playing some terrific tennis right now and with so much on the line, it will be interesting to see how Kerber copes with the situation. It reminds me again of the round robin match in Singapore where Kerber needed a win over Lucie Safarova to qualify for the semi-finals but came up short. That match has acted somewhat of a stepping stone to the strides that Kerber has taken this year. This will be another step-up… nerves and fatigue could play their part but adrenaline might just kick in for Kerber as the world number one position comes into sight.