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May 20, 2019

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Pliskova sparkles at Italian Open

Czech fourth seed Karolina Pliskova swept past Britain’s Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4 to win the Italian Open yesterday.

Pliskova, the 2017 French Open semifinalist, clinched her 13th career title, in the final major warm-up tournament on clay before the French Open starts at Roland Garros on May 26.

A break in each set was enough for the former world No. 1 to get past Konta, sealing victory on her third match point after 85 minutes on court.

“It was a great week for me and my team,” said the 27-year-old, now coached by former Rome champion Conchita Martinez of Spain.

“There were a couple of tough matches so I was happy to fight through them. I was a little bit nervous today, but it was my first final in Rome, so that’s to be expected.”

She had never gone past the semi-finals in her four previous appearances in Rome.

Last year she exited in disgrace after smashing a hole in the umpire’s chair in a temper tantrum after losing in the second round.

Pliskova, the highest remaining seed, got an early break in the final and swept 3-0 up in just eight minutes on the red clay of the Foro Italico.

A double fault when serving for the set handed Konta a break point but the British No. 1 squandered the chance with a smash into the net with the entire court open to her.

Konta then hit a weak forehand shot into the tape and the ball bounced wide, allowing Pliskova to wrap up the first set in 36 minutes.

Pliskova broke in the seventh game of the second set, despite Konta saving two break points, with the world No. 7 powering through for the biggest title of her career since Cincinnati in 2016.

She becomes the first Czech woman to win the Rome tournament since Regina Marsikova in 1978.

For Konta, who has won three WTA titles, it was her second straight defeat in a final on clay after the Morocco Open earlier this month.

“It’s always tough playing Karolina,” said former world No. 4 Konta, who has slipped to 42nd. “There’s rarely really a rhythm to the match. She plays with big shots, quite flat, and big serves. It can feel sometimes you’re fighting an uphill battle. That was the case today.

“She didn’t really have a letdown throughout the match. She played very consistently. I found it quite hard to get a footing into the match, which is credit to her.”

The 28-year-old Konta, the first British woman in the Rome final since Virginia Wade in 1971, will now be seeded at the French Open later this month.

“I’m definitely pleased with this week. This is my second final in three weeks. That’s still quite an achievement,” said Konta. “I’m looking forward to Paris.”

Top seeds Naomi Osaka and Petra Kvitova pulled out injured during the Rome event, while Roland Garros champion Simona Halep crashed out in her opening match in Italy.

Four-time Rome winner Serena Williams also withdrew before the second round as her return after a two-month layoff was cut short when her knee injury flared up.

In the men’s competition, world No. 1 Novak Djokovic — winner at the Madrid Open last weekend — was meeting defending champion and eight-time winner Rafael Nadal. It is the 54th clash between the world’s top two men’s players who have won 12 of the last 14 Rome titles between them.


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