When the Generali Ladies Linz Open, one of the last strongholds of the WTA’s European indoor season, landed both Eugenie Bouchard and Ana Ivanovic for the 2014 edition, tournament director Sandra Reichel surely breathed a sigh of relief. While Linz has managed to cling to a spot on a calendar that’s undergone a massive facelift (I’m looking at you, #WTAsia), the tournament has found itself deep in December, plagued by withdrawals, shameless tanking, and some sketchy shenanigans in recent years.
Not to mention those creepy lions. I mean, really. Can someone explain them to me?
Unfortunately, Reichel’s joy didn’t last for long as both Bouchard and Ivanovic withdrew after winning their first round matches. Ivanovic defeated Pauline Parmentier before pulling out due to a troublesome left hip, while Bouchard called it quits with a left thigh injury a day after beating home favorite Patricia Mayr-Achleitner. With all but one seeded player dumped out of the tournament before the quarterfinals, it seemed as though this year’s event would be just another footnote in the final chapter of what has been one of the most beloved stories in WTA herstory. With the Kremlin Cup in Moscow also struggling to attract star-studded fields with its proximity to the WTA Finals, the end of the autumn swing in Europe is nigh. Winter is coming, if it’s not already here.
With Elsa the Snow Queen otherwise occupied, it was up to the WTA’s resident ice princesses to let it go in Linz. They’ve delivered. Camila Giorgi and Karolina Pliskova will square off for the trophy on Sunday, in what could possibly be the least-emotive final ever. Playing in her fifth final of the year, Pliskova is seeking her second title after winning in Seoul, while Giorgi looks to win her first WTA crown. The Italian held match point but ultimately finished runner-up to Alizé Cornet, who is everything Giorgi – and Pliskova for that matter – isn’t in a wacky final in Katowice earlier this year.
Their games run hot, while their blood runs cold. Both Pliskova and Giorgi pack a lot of power without a lot of histrionics, and seem to exert the least amount of effort possible on court with polar opposite presentations. Giorgi, whose fluid technique is textbook, cracks winners at will. Pliskova, to her credit, also possesses a textbook shot: her serve. The Czech was often considered lackadaisical – even slow – with her movement on court, but has made a concerted effort to improve in the last year. While she’ll never be a road-runner, her hard work has not gone unrewarded.
The road to the final has been all business for both players, who’ve dropped just one set between them this week. The perpetually unseeded Giorgi defeated No. 4 seed Andrea Petkovic in the first round with the loss of just three games, before steamrolling Ons Jabeur, Marina Erakovic and Karin Knapp; Pliskova, the No. 3 seed, beat Kirsten Flipkens, Mona Barthel, Madison Brengle and qualifier Anna-Lena Friedsam.
“The last few weeks weren’t very good, but now I’m getting the momentum back,” Giorgi said. “In the final, I’m going to focus on my game and try to dictate. I will prepare like any other match.”
Pliskova’s improved movement will most surely be put to the test on Sunday, particularly if Giorgi displays this week’s level of aggression and accuracy off the ground. To stop the Italian from dictating the pace of play, the Czech will need to bring the proverbial heat on serve. For Giorgi, the key to Sunday’s final will be whether or not she can stay in first gear. If her game is clicking on all cylinders, her firepower will be more than adequate to melt Pliskova’s defenses. If it’s off, however, she might just spontaneously combust.
“She can hit so many winners, and there’s nothing you can do about it,” Pliskova said. “Our previous match was very close. I will need to serve well.”
The Linz Open might be in winter, but for Giorgi and Pliskova, the cold never bothered them anyway.