Karolina Pliskova did not see it coming: The 23-year-old from the Czech Republic capped off breakthrough run through the first four months of the season last week by winning the inaugural Prague Open. The title was Pliskova's first of the season and fourth of her career, and served as yet another reminder of just how good she has been in 2015. And she admits she's as surprised as anyone else.
Currently ranked No. 13, Pliskova is at No. 4 in the WTA's Road To Singapore rankings, which tally the points earned in the current season. She sits behind No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 2 Simona Halep and No. 3 Maria Sharapova—heady company to say the least.
SI.com sat down with Pliskova earlier this season to discuss her improvement, her difficult transition from a successful junior career to the pros and why there must be something special in the water in the Czech Republic.
SI.com: Are you doing anything differently this year to earn these great results?
Pliskova: I don't see any difference compared to last year but probably I've grown up a little bit mentally and physically as well. So I'm feeling good on court. And I was feeling good at the end of last year. I won two titles there and I was feeling good on the court as well. And then we did good preparation at home. I was one month practicing at home with my fitness coach and my tennis coach. We were practicing different stuff than what I was used to before. I was just happy the year started—after the preparation you don't know what to expect. It's two months without a match. But I was just happy with how I started the year in Brisbane and Sydney. Since that time I'm playing good and I'm feeling good. I'm really happy.
What's the match that gave you confidence after the off-season that 2015 could be a special year for you?
In Brisbane I won the first round against Victoria Azarenka and that gave me confidence. Even though I lost the next round I was feeling really good. Then in Sydney I made the final. It really paid off.
How has your game changed from when you were a junior?
A lot. In the juniors I was totally different physically and mentally. Now I've grown up mentally. I've played so many matches against the top players so now I know a little bit how to play against them. I'm not that scared of them or the big stadiums. I've improved my movement a little bit—there's still a lot to work on. But it's improving slowly.
I have noticed you're moving much better this year. Is that something you worked on specifically in the off-season?
My training wasn't that different from before but I was working more on movement on the court. Like left, right and sprints. We tried to work on that more. Also moving in between the balls, we were practicing that more. Also, after matches I'm feeling not too tired.
You had a non-stop schedule to start the season, going straight to Canada for Fed Cup right after the Australian Open, then back to Europe for Antwerp, and then to the Middle East. It seems like you're one of those players who would rather play tournaments than practice.
You don't get tired from all that?
I have to say after Dubai I was a little bit tired because I had to go to Canada for Fed Cup. So the one week off was fine for me. But even that was too much rest for me.
So what did you do after Dubai to relax?
I was one week at home in Prague. I went to see my family. My mother is out of Prague and my father as well. He is in Louny, a small village. My mother is about 40 km from Prague. I went there because I didn't even want to be in the city much.
You really wanted to relax.
Yes. The village where my father lives is like 300 people. So there was like no one there. And I have a new sister, just one year old. So it was nice.
When is the first time you remember thinking you were good at tennis?
I never thought about it, but probably when I was in juniors. It was tough because we (Pliskova has a twin sister, Kristyna, who also plays on the WTA) started playing the WTA when we were 15 years old and we were like 600 and 700 in the world and it was tough to get our ranking up. But in the juniors, when we both won the junior Grand Slams (Karolina won the 2010 Australian Open juniors), that was a small step that meant something. Still, it's something different to play juniors to then play the women's tour. The main thing for me was when I won my first title in Kuala Lumpur. That was the biggest step that I made. I made the Top 100 and I've stayed there ever since.
How difficult was the transition from juniors to seniors for you?
It's really tough because you win the junior Grand Slam and everyone expects it will be like this on the women's as well. But it's a different competition than in juniors. I was feeling like I was good but people were saying that—I was 17—and people were saying “you should already be in the Top 100.” So I was feeling a little bit of pressure after winning a Grand Slam.
Is there something in the water in the Czech Republic? There are four Czech players in the Top 25.
I don't get it, really. Everyone is asking but I don't get it. Everyone has different coaches and everyone is from different cities, we're not even all from Prague.
Is it the Czech Federation?
No. The Federation doesn't have anything to do our support. It's more private clubs. I have my own coach, Petra [Kvitova] has her own coach, Lucie [Safarova] has a coach from Canada, Barbora [Strycova] has a coach from France. So it's not even like we have such good coaches in Czech Republic, but of course we do. It's just amazing what the Czech girls are doing right now.
Do you see any common characteristics amongst the top Czech women?
Not the game style. We are all different. Maybe I'm a bit similar to Petra. But Barbora and Lucie are different. Lucie is lefty and Barbora has a completely different game than me. I think all of us have a good head for tennis. We can win tough matches. Maybe that's the Czech personality? I really don't know. If I knew I would tell you.
You just made your Top 20 debut earlier this year. Do you feel like a Top 20 player now?
I have to say yes. I feel the confidence. I know which girls I beat this year and I have so many good matches, even if I lost to Simona Halep or Petra Kvitova they are both top 5 so it doesn't mean that I am bad.
Have you had to change your goals and expectations after such a great start to the season?
I was happy with how I ended last year around No. 25. My goal was to be seeded for the Grand Slams. I was saying at the beginning of the year that I wanted to stay where I am, around 20 or 25. But the year started better than I thought, so the situation has changed. But I don't want to talk about it. I've only won two rounds at the Grand Slams so I just want to improve on that.
What's your favorite surface?
Hard court. Medium is fine, it doesn't have to be fast. But not slow, because my movement has to improve.
If you had to choose only one, would you choose to improve your game physically, mentally, or tactically?
For sure tactically. I am still doing a lot of mistakes on my tactics. For example, Simona Halep has a better backhand and then I go to the net and play to her backhand when I should be playing to the forehand. Against the top players you need to know what to play and what not to play. And physically, my movement can be much better.
A few quick hits here: Most played song in iPod?
A lot of Czech pop music. But the last CD I downloaded was the 50 Shades of Grey soundtrack. I didn't see the movie. But I like the music.
Do you watch an American television?
I don't watch shows. I watch a lot of sports. Not soccer. I hate soccer. But in Czech now we have ice hockey, and in the States I watch the NHL, and of course tennis if it's on.
Do you have a favorite hockey club back home?
HC Litvinov. I was practicing in the city before when I was smaller for like four years and I was cheering for them already from the beginning and it stayed. And they're doing quite well now.
You’re stuck on a desert island: Name five things you'd bring.
My sister. My phone and charger. Swimsuit. Food. And some guy (laughs).
What's your favorite food?
I like Italian food. And I'm starting to learn how to eat sushi. I don't like it. But I'm trying.
Most used app on your phone?