Hard-serving Pliskova faces plucky Barty for Miami Open title

Karolina Pliskova, who is known for her serving, is looking to acquire her second title of the season and the 13th of her career.
Karolina Pliskova, who is known for her serving, is looking to acquire her second title of the season and the 13th of her career. AP

Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty share a common distinction as they head into playing each other in the Miami Open women’s final on Saturday.

Both are the first women from their country — Pliskova from the Czech Republic, Barty from Australia — to reach the Miami Open final. And, not surprisingly, both hope to be the pioneer player to add their nation to the list of women’s champions in the 35-year history of the tournament.

In the category of more notable exploits, the 12th-seeded Barty actually has the fifth-seeded Pliskova beat as she’s the first Australian player — man or woman — to have safe passage to a Miami Open championship match.

On the men’s side of the equation, Pliskova’s had two compatriots who have won the Miami trophy. Ivan Lendl, who became an American citizen in 1992, captured the trophy as a Czech in 1986 and ’89. Miloslav Mecir won the title in 1987.

Pliskova and Barty have played four times and are currently tied at two wins apiece — 1-1 on hard courts and 1-1 on grass. Pliskova won their last outing in straight sets in last year’s U.S. Open fourth round.

Thus far this year, the 13 women’s events have been conquered by 13 different players. Pliskova is in position to end that streak if she picks up a first career Miami Open trophy.

The 27-year-old Pliskova is looking to acquire her second title of the season — the 13th of her career — having already won the Brisbane International event in January.

A former world No. 1, who played in one Grand Slam final at the 2016 U.S. Open, Pliskova’s long been identified by her swanky serve. This year is proving to be no exception.

She’s already struck a tournament-leading 31 aces in the women’s competition and a WTA-leading 177 aces for the season. Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens is in second place with 153 aces posted this year.

Five of Pliskova’s aces were earned when she denied second-seeded Simona Halep a return to the No. 1 ranking by beating the Romanian in straight-sets in Thursday’s semifinals.

In Pliskova’s mind the serve will be instrumental in the final against Barty, a 5-1 dynamo that pools power and finesse to take down opponents.

Pliskova and Barty are neck-and-neck in some prominent serving statistics this season. Pliskova’s won 79.2 percent of her service games while Barty stands at 78.9 percent. Barty has saved 64.4 percent of break points she faced, while Pliskova’s saved 61.2 percent of break points she has presented to opponents.

“I need to serve well, but in every match I need to serve well,” said the 6-1 Pliskova. “I think I have the better serve. You know, she has a good serve, too. But I think we can both hold. So it’s gonna be about, maybe, couple points, couple chances.”

Overall, this is Pliskova’s fifth tournament of the season, and she has reached at least the quarterfinals at each event.

The 22-year-old Barty’s cruising on a 17-3 match-winning record for the season and reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open in January.

Barty’s trip to Miami’s already embellished her résumé. She completes this tournament, win or lose, by becoming a top-10 player entering the elite grouping at No. 9 on Monday.

And if luck is on her side, she could win a fourth career title on Saturday.

“Obviously, it’s another chance at a title,” Barty said. “Really excited to be in this position.

“I get to go out there and try and play my brand of tennis.”