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Pliskova vs Konta tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Who will claim their biggest clay-court title in Rome?

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 18 May 2019
  • Karolina Pliskova faces Johanna Konta in the final of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia
  • Pliskova vs Konta is live from Rome on Sunday at 1pm local/12pm BST
Karolina Pliskova (PA Sport)

Johanna Konta tries to become the first British woman to win in Rome since Virginia Wade in 1971, but faces an uphill battle against world no. 7 Karolina Pliskova.

Will it be Karolina Pliskova or Johanna Konta who captures the biggest clay-court title of their career when the two face off in the final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome on Sunday?

Should Pliskova win on Sunday, it would be the joint-biggest title of her career, equaling the first Premier-5 title she won in Cincinnati in 2016, shortly before the run to the US Open final which would lead, just under a year later, to her short-lived elevation to world no. 1. Of the Czech’s 12 career titles, only two have come on clay – an International-level title in Prague in 2015, and a much more prestigious win for her at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart last April.

Karolina Pliskova (PA Sport)
Now coached by Conchita Martinez, who won Rome four straight years between 1993 and 1996 before her run was eventually stopped by Mary Pierce in the final in 1997, Pliskova was superbly consistent for the first three months of the year on hard courts and, a former French Open semifinalist, had every reason to have high expectations for the clay season. But illness intervened, keeping her out of Prague and blighting her chances in Stuttgart and Madrid before she finally was able to practice at 100% before Rome began. Still, Pliskova said that her expectations were low. ‘On clay, I was just hoping for some matches, maybe couple, but not for this much,’ she said on Saturday.

Pliskova was fortunate to be one of the few who escaped having to play two matches on one day, having recorded her second-round win over Ajla Tomljanovic before Wednesday’s total wash-out, but she’s played a series of tough opponents who make matches very physical contests and force, with the excellence of their defense, players to work very hard for every point: Hobart champion Sofia Kenin, former world no. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals, and finally Maria Sakkari, the Greek qualifier who recently won her first title on clay in Rabat and has been on inspired form in Rome.

Up against Sakkari on Saturday, it could have been an emotionally awkward match for Pliskova – a rematch of the Rome clash last year that saw her lose in three sets to the Greek and slam her racquet into the umpire’s chair several times in a rare display of anger – but she was both cool-headed and tremendously focused on Saturday. In fact, she was so tunnel-vision focused on the next point that she didn’t realize she’d actually won the match when she broke Sakkari to close out the 6-4, 6-4 victory, much to the amusement of coach Martinez. 

Pliskova trailed 2-4 in the first set, but took the opportunity of a very brief rain delay to reset and refocus and reeled off the next four games on the resumption before saving break points in multiple games early in the second set, finally pouncing when Sakkari blinked. The Czech said in press that she didn’t feel like she’s been playing good tennis this week; I disagree and thought she was exactly as good as she needed to be against Sakkari. The question is whether she can raise her game against Johanna Konta in the final.

Unlike the more defensive counterpunching games of Sakkari, Kenin and to some extent Azarenka, Konta has the weapons to go blow for blow with Pliskova, as she proved when she ended the eight-match winning run of Madrid champion Kiki Bertens in the semifinals.

It was Konta’s first win over a top-5 player since she beat Simona Halep to reach the Wimbledon semifinals in 2017, and this is only the 28-year-old’s third final (after runner-up finishes at International-level events in Nottingham in 2018 and Rabat a few weeks ago) since winning her biggest title in Miami the same year. The sharp decline of Konta from her peak of world no. 7 in July 2017 has been well documented; after reaching the Wimbledon semifinals, she only won two matches for the rest of that season; by the end of 2018 she was down to world no. 44. But the British player has been recording decent results and often tight losses to top players – Garbine Muguruza at the Australian Open, Kiki Bertens at Indian Wells – and performed magnificently on two occasions for Great Britain’s Fed Cup team. 

It felt like it was only a matter of time before the big results started to come again for Konta – although I’m not sure anyone expected it to come on clay, which has never been her best surface at WTA Tour level. But after a runner-up finish in Rabat, where she was closing in on her first clay-court title before Sakkari staged an excellent comeback from a set and a break down, Konta has beaten a series of quality opponents in Rome: Sloane Stephens and Venus Williams on the same day; the very talented Marketa Vondrousova in the quarterfinals; and finally Bertens, who had just become the first woman to win Madrid without dropping a set. 

Johanna Konta (PA Sport)
Despite a day off on Friday after receiving a walkover from Naomi Osaka, Bertens was clearly drained by her recent feats in Saturday’s clash, but there’s still a lot of opponents she would have been able to beat. Konta played a tremendously confident match, serving well and with her backhand down the line firing once more; she consistently found short angles to keep Bertens on the move, and kept attacking the net and utilizing drop shots to great effect. After losing a tight first set, she found an excellent rhythm on serve and just kept plugging away, swinging freely, trying things out, playing with a fluidity that has eluded her in recent years (and moving very well  on the clay, too).

‘I knew going out there that there wasn't going to be one solution. It wasn't going to be one answer or one specific game plan that was going to be, yeah, like: Wow, that's okay, I've cracked it,’ Konta said afterwards.

‘It was going to be a continuous adjustment, a continuous openness to figure it out within the match. I thought I did that well. I stayed very open in trying to find a solution in each point, in each ball. I just trusted that.’

The head-to-head doesn’t bode well for Konta’s chances of becoming the first British woman to win what used to be called the Italian Open since Virginia Wade in 1971, however. Pliskova has won five of their six previous meetings, including their solitary meeting on clay back in 2011. On the other hand, four of Pliskova’s wins, as well as Konta’s solitary triumph in Beijing in 2016, came in three sets. 

I actually think Konta could win this. Many of the tactics she used against Bertens on Saturday will also be effective against Pliskova, she’s confident and swinging freely. It may well come down to who serves better, and there’s no reason why that couldn’t be Konta. 

Pliskova vs Konta Internazionali BNL d’Italia tennis is live from Rome on Sunday at 1pm local/12pm BST

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Pliskova vs Konta tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Who will claim their biggest clay-court title in Rome?

Karolina Pliskova vs Johanna Konta live streaming, preview and predictions for the WTA Rome Internazionali BNL d’Italia final on Sunday 19 May: Unseeded Konta aims to become the first British woman to win the Italian Open in Rome since Virginia Wade in 1971

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