Serve and Return – the classic contest and no where was it more obvious then in the finals, here at Stanford on a very hot Sunday afternoon.
Karolina Pliskova, seeded 4th, had made it through to the finals without the loss of a set. But what a serve, often well into if not above 115 mph. She plays offense from all parts of the court, and truly no one would call her a ‘grinder” who plays meticulous defensive tennis.
Angelique Kerber, seeded 5th, had a rougher ride to the finals. In the quarterfinals she prevailed in an excellent match against the dangerous-touch artist-drop shot-lobber Agi Radwanska. It has been some time since we have seen a player on the women’s tour with this creativity. If she had more of a weapon on the serve that would be another story – but still in this match with long rallies, thrust and parry, point and counter point – the match appeared dead even until the end of the third set with Kerber the victor 46 64 64.
In the finals it was truly serve vs. return. Kerber played mainly cross court tennis, daring Pliskova to redirect the ball up the line – sometimes Karolina was successful, other times she sprayed the ball long and or wide. And where Pliscova served well into the 100’s Keber’s second serve often registered a meek 72 or 73 mph.
But there was a story here. The first set was close, neither player with an advantage. Then with Kerber serving at 43 in the first, she held at love – but get this – with all second serves, all in the mid 70’s but where Pliscova failed to return three of Kerber’s deliveries. Incredible!
Then serving at 35 Karolina played another poor game, was broken at love, with the first set concluding where Kerber won 8 straight points.
The video below shows I believe the tenor of the match – where Kerber used short blocking return strokes to get into the point, and with her cross court patterns always daring Pliscova to take (and either make or miss) the high risk reply.
Call that redirecting – and in most cases the most likely errors occur when redirecting incoming cross courts up the line to the open court.
Kerber won the match 63 57 64 – and in most matches the most important statistic is points won and lost on the 2nd serve. In the deciding set Kerber won just 28% of the points played on her 2nd serve where Pliscova won 41% – but unusually Kerber won 75% of the points on her serve and I believe that stat alone carried her to victory.