Karolina Pliskova: Time to deliver on the biggest stage

Karolina Pliskova has proven her consistency on the WTA Tour, but the search for an elusive first Grand Slam is reaching a critical point ahead of 2020.

Along with Bianca Andreescu, Ashleigh Barty, Simona Halep and Naomi Osaka, the other nomination for the WTA’s Player of the Year award is Karolina Pliskova.

The one glaring difference between Pliskova and the other quartet on the shortlist to win the honour,  though, is her 2019 Grand Slam record.

While Osaka, Barty, Halep and Andreescu tasted major success over the course of the year, the talented Czech went a third straight year without making a Grand Slam final.

She reached the semi-finals in the Australian Open, falling in three sets to eventual champion Osaka.

But the Czech struggled from there, at least by the standards of a top-ranked player, in the three other majors.

Pliskova suffered a third-round exit to Petra Martic at the French Open and followed that up with a fourth-round appearance at Wimbledon, where she lost 13-11 in the final set to compatriot Karolina Muchova.

She reached the same last-16 stage at the US Open, where Johanna Konta knocked her out, again in a deciding set.

The other top tournaments were not too much better, at least in terms of her ability to claim the tournament wins. Of the 10 next most important events: the WTA Finals, the four premier mandatory events and the premier five, Pliskova won just one with her trophy at the Italian Open in Rome.

But the fact she ended the year ranked number two highlighted her astonishing consistency week-to-week on the WTA Tour.

Her four titles in 2019 was a total not bettered by any other player and she now has four straight years finishing inside the top 10, having peaked at 1 in 2017.

So the ability is there, the consistency is there, but getting over the line at the biggest events and ultimately claiming that first major win is becoming an increasingly important priority. That will, of course, be her main focus in 2020.

It is likely why she has made a coaching change with Daniel Vallverdu, who has previously worked with Grand Slam winners like Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, coming in to replace Conchita Martinez.

Australia is a good place for Pliskova to start her fresh pursuit of a major. The country holds fond memories, as she has won twice at the Brisbane International and gone close at the Australian Open before, most recently with her run to the last four in Melbourne.

That effort was her best 2019 Slam performance and came after two quarter-final appearances in the preceding years.

Karolina Pliskova will be all too aware that the legacies of players like Jelena Jankovic and Dinara Safina, stars who reached the world number one spot without ever winning a Grand Slam, will be very different to those of major winners like her fellow Czech Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion.

Still just 27, she still has plenty of time to write her name in the history books, but while she is at the peak of her powers and flying high towards the top of the rankings, there is no better time than 2020 to deliver.