Karolina Pliskova is battling the pressure of being world number one as she tries to secure her first grand slam victory at the US Open this week. The tall, big-serving Czech admitted that elevated expectations were taking a toll on her as she plays in her first major since hitting the top of the world rankings.
“I feel pressure,” the 25-year-old told reporters after her three-set, third-round victory against 26th-ranked Zhang Shuai. “I know all the opponents are behind me, so I should win every match, which is tough.”
Pliskova has been hearing footsteps ever since ascending to the WTA’s top spot in July.
Seven other women came into the year’s final grand slam with a shot at taking the top ranking from Pliskova, who needs to reach the final for the second consecutive year to maintain the position.
After several upsets in the tournament, that number has dropped to two with hard-hitting Spaniard Garbine Muguruza and Ukrainian baseline specialist Elina Svitolina still in contention.
If world number three Muguruza advances to the semi-finals, then Pliskova will have the added pressure of needing to win the tournament to stay number one.
Consistency has been a challenge for Pliskova, who has managed to play well in the biggest moments of her matches at Flushing Meadows but has yet to put together a complete performance.
“I’m playing in quite big waves this tournament so far. Sometimes I play good shots, good rallies, and then there is hundreds of mistakes and not a good shot,” she said.
She had to stave off a match point for Zhang in the second set of Saturday’s come-from-beind win.
Despite nine aces in the match, her serve was still far from the deadly weapon it was earlier in the season.
“I just try to fight even if my game is not 100 percent and it’s not 100 percent, actually, this week,” she said. “But I’m winning, so that’s the main thing.”