By Toby Davis
LONDON (Reuters) – Karolina Pliskova has never got past the second round at Wimbledon in five main-draw appearances, but after a year to remember, the towering Czech looks armed and ready for an assault on the title.
With Serena Williams out of the picture, the 25-year-old is favorite with bookmakers to claim a maiden grand slam trophy at the All England Club, and she certainly has the tools to make an impact on Wimbledon’s slick lawns.
Armed with a bullet serve, a thunderous array of groundstrokes and an ice cool on-court demeanor, she has become a serious threat at the majors over the last 12 months.
She made her grand slam breakthrough with a run to the U.S. Open final last year, beating Serena along the way, and followed up by making the quarter-finals in Australia and claiming two tour titles before going to the French Open.
There she reached the last four and was only a painful semi-final defeat to Simona Halep away from becoming world number one.
It has been a remarkable turnaround for a player who did not get past the third round at a major in her first 17 main-draw appearances, and it is testament to the work she has put in grinding her way up the rankings.
“Nothing comes easy. Maybe some players who are playing the first grand slam in their life can go far,” the world number three said at the French Open. “But with me, it was just different. So I had to first play a few more before I could go far.”
While she may have had an impact at the other three slams, she is still waiting for her breakthrough moment at Wimbledon, having never made it into the second week in singles.
She has a number of weapons, however, that should be well-suited to the grass including a firecracker serve, the staple of many Wimbledon champions, launched from her imposing 6-foot-1-inch (1.86 meter) frame.
She hammered down the most aces on the WTA Tour last year with 530 from 61 matches, while she downed Serena in New York by winning 84 percent of points on her first serve.
Her whipped forehand can also cause serious damage even if it is not always pin-point accurate as she showed in her semi-final defeat to Halep in Paris.
That match, when Halep showed the full extent of her defensive skills to outfox Pliskova in three sets, illustrated just how wayward the Czech’s wrecking-ball groundstrokes can be when she is put under pressure.
Pliskova made 55 unforced errors, with 24 coming in the first set alone, against Halep, who was overwhelmed by the Czech’s power in the second set, but still came out on top.
And despite her icy demeanor, Pliskova can be hard on herself when things start going wrong.
“I’m too negative sometimes,” she said after reaching the fourth round in Paris. “So I want too much sometimes, and then I’m even missing even more than I would be missing. But we are trying to change this.”
When her game clicks, however, there are few more damaging players currently in the women’s game and after a long wait to get to the top, she looks ready take the next step to becoming a grand slam champion.
“It took me some time (to challenge at the majors),” she said at the French Open. “I’m just happy that I’m there now.”
(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by Neil Robinson)