Top 5 WTA upsets of 2016: #4 - Karolina Pliskova ends Serena Williams’ reign at number one in New York, advances to first major final

Every day this week, VAVEL USA’s Max Gao will be counting down the top 5 biggest WTA upsets of 2016. Number four: Karolina Pliskova’s stunning victory over Serena Williams, which propelled the former into her first major final and ended the latter’s three-and-a-half-year reign at the top.

Top 5 WTA upsets of 2016: #4 - Karolina Pliskova ends Serena Williams’ reign at number one in New York, advances to first major final
Karolina Pliskova celebrates after defeating Serena Williams in the semifinals of the 2016 U.S. Open. | Photo: Elsa/Getty Images

Tenth seed Karolina Pliskova had never previously made the second week of a major until this year’s U.S. Open, where a magical run ensued on the courts of the Billie Jean King National Tennis Centre. Under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium, Pliskova, as dangerous as ever, stunned world number one Serena Williams, 6-2, 7-6(5), en route to reaching her first Grand Slam final in some style.

Pliskova Moves a Set Clear; Holds on to Complete Stunning Upset

In a clash that promised to be a “battle royale” from the back of the court, particularly from the service line given the ferocity of both serves, it was surprisingly Pliskova who took advantage of another slow start from the world number one as she drew first blood. Breaking straight away in the third game, the Czech never seemed to look back, serving her way to a one-set advantage as she took the opening set, 6-2, in just 26 minutes.

The second set, however, was a much tighter affair, with both women characteristically beginning to find their range with their massive serves, making for some rather quick service games. Pliskova would break for a third time midway through the set to move a set and 3-2 clear of her first Grand Slam final, before Williams began to mount one of her trademark comebacks, breaking straight back to steady the ship and keep the match on serve.

With the ferocity of both players’ serves, it seemed only fitting that the second set be decided in an old-fashioned seven-point shootout. Pliskova, like she did for the better part of the first two sets, would jump out to an early lead before Williams pegged her back with the help of some stunning defence and a series of scintillating backhands. But with her number one ranking on the line, the American understandably tightened up while Pliskova began to raise her level, consequently resulting in the first match point for the Czech at 6-5.

With a spot in her first major final up for the taking, the tenth seed didn’t even need to hit a ball as the world number one double faulted on match point, handing the Czech a berth in the showpiece.

The Magnitude of Pliskova’s Victory

Striking seven aces and winning an astounding 84% of her first serve points against the world number one, this victory not only propelled Pliskova into uncharted territory at a Grand Slam, but also ended Williams’ reign at the pinnacle of women’s tennis, one that spanned an incredible 186 consecutive weeks.

Ironically, the woman she denied to keep Williams from losing the number one ranking in Cincinnati was the woman she helped claim it with her victory over the American in New York. By virtue of Williams’ defeat, Angelique Kerber became the oldest player to take over the world number one ranking, and would defeat Pliskova two days later to claim her second Grand Slam title of the season—the perfect ending to an extraordinary fortnight in the Big Apple for the German.

But despite falling in a tight three-setter to Kerber in the final, this year’s U.S. Open was a major breakthrough for Pliskova, given how she had never made it past the third round of a Grand Slam coming in. This run, and this victory in particular, was a way for the Czech to officially announce herself to the tennis world that she was hear to stay, contending for the big titles on the biggest of stages.