Pliskova, one for the future

Though Karolina Pliskova lost to Angelique Kerber in the U.S. Open women’s singles final, the Czech is a great prospect provided she stays injury-free.

Karolina Pliskova makes great use of her height to fire in some big serves.   -  AP

Thanks to my good pal Hasu Masrani, I was able to tick off another item from my bucket list of sporting events. The last time I had been to the U.S. Open tennis was in 1978 when it was at Forest Hills. At that time, we were in New York to play an exhibition match for the Rest of the World against the American All Stars, a team that was made of mostly players from the Caribbean who had settled in the USA. Our team was captained by the incomparable Garfield Sobers, and had Bishan Singh Bedi, Zaheer Abbas, Barry Richards, Alan Knott, Greg Chappell, Majid Khan, John Snow and Tony Greig, to name a few. We played at the Shea Stadium in front of a large turnout, and we had a great time. The only problem was getting paid for it. The organiser was a huge man of Caribbean descent, who distributed cheques to some and cash to others. When one of the guys receiving the cheque asked a bit timidly, “What if the cheque bounces?” the organiser replied in typical West Indian style, “If it bounces, hook it maan”.

 

Greg Chappell was the one who arranged for tickets for those of us interested in going to the U.S. Open. He got the tickets from one of the Australian players — John Alexander, if I remember correctly — and so we went to Forest Hills. The U.S. Open was played on grass courts then, and the stadium, though much smaller than the Shea Stadium, was quite compact. Apparently, that was the last time the U.S. Open was played at Forest Hills; it then moved to the hard courts of Flushing Meadows.

Serena Williams’ dream of adding another major to her bulging tally of 22 titles was once again shattered in the semi-final stage, where she lost to Karolina Pliskova. Last year, too, when looking to complete a Grand Slam, she stumbled at the same stage. With newer players coming through, especially from Eastern Europe, with each passing year, it is not going to be easy for Serena to get past the mark of 24 titles, held by Margaret Court.

Angelique Kerber is like a returning machine and she sent just about every ball hit by Pliskova back across the net to wear her younger opponent down and win the title and with it the No. 1 ranking. Serena had held the No. 1 ranking for 179 weeks.

Though Pliskova lost, she has a tremendous future provided she stays injury-free. Her game is so fluent and easy and she makes great use of her height to fire in some big serves. She looked a bit overawed which is understandable considering it was her first appearance in a major final, but clearly, she is one to keep an eye on for the future.

Stan Wawrinka seems to be writing a completely different storyline by beginning to win majors after the age of 28 when most players are sliding down the rankings and form. He seems to be getting better with age, and the way he got stronger and stronger after losing the first set was incredible. Djokovic had lost to him in the French Open final last year in similar fashion after winning the first set. At the Flushing Meadows, too, Wawrinka had the extra gear, which Djokovic could not handle.

Djokovic suffered a bleeding injury on his big toe and this restricted his movement to a great extent, but that does not take anything away from Wawrinka’s win. Stan the man had done it again. Wawrinka reminds one of the great South African Jacques Kallis. They seem to be of the same height, and are similar the way they walk and are so calm, cool and collected. Stan, like Kallis, never let anything ruffle him.

Djokovic taking medical time-outs for his injury did create a controversy with commentators suggesting that it was gamesmanship, but as long as the chair umpire allowed it, there should be no issues. Sometimes in sport, at this level, a certain allowance needs to be given to ensure continuity of the match. If Djokovic had retired in the third set then the whole stadium would have been upset, so it was practical to give him more time, even if that meant the rules had to be bent, than stick blindly to the regulations of medical time-out.

This is the second time now that I have seen Wawrinka beat Djokovic in the final and maybe I should send his team a message to have me around for the semis and finals when he is playing, as I could be his lucky charm. I am joking of course, but Wawrinka now has to win on grass at Wimbledon for a career Grand Slam.