Tennis: Halep, Pliskova stay cool in race for No.1

Romanian not putting extra pressure on herself, top spot not a priority for Czech

Garbine Muguruza might just be getting accustomed to the world No. 1 ranking after 15 days at the summit. But this week's Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open provides her nearest active challengers, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova, the chance to displace her.

Should world No. 2 Halep or fourth-ranked Pliskova reach the final of the event which world No. 3 Elina Svitolina has skipped, and if other results go their way, one of them could dethrone the Wimbledon champion.

Life at the top is not unfamiliar to Pliskova, who held the No. 1 ranking for six weeks. A quarter-final loss to American CoCo Vandeweghe at the US Open this month saw Muguruza take over.

But Pliskova insisted that regaining top spot is not a priority.

"I don't want to chase the position. I've been there and to be honest, it's just a ranking, it's not a title," the Czech told the media in the capital of Hubei province yesterday. "If it happens, I'm going to be happy but if it doesn't, I'm okay as well."

While the 25-year-old has experienced a taste of being the top-ranked female player, the No. 1 crown still eludes Halep, who has been No. 2 for the past 12 weeks.


Karolina Pliskova PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

RELAXED APPROACH

I don't want to chase the position. I've been there and to be honest, it's just a ranking, it's not a title. If it happens, I'm going to be happy but if it doesn't, I'm okay.

KAROLINA PLISKOVA, on why she is not obsessed about regaining the world No. 1 position for a second time this year.

  • 3

  • Number of new women's No. 1 tennis players in 2017:

    • Angelique Kerber (since September 2016)

    • Karolina Pliskova (July)

    • Garbine Muguruza (September)

The Romanian has come close to being No. 1 this year - three times she found herself a win away from top spot. During the French Open final in June, she was three games away from the No. 1 spot, but fell to Jelena Ostapenko in three sets. Her second shot came the following month in the Wimbledon quarter-finals, where she led home favourite Johanna Konta by a set, but also lost in three. In last month's Cincinnati Open final, she fell in straight sets to Muguruza.

On the possibility of finally assuming the throne, Halep said yesterday: "I was thinking about this many times, but now it's over in my eyes. I'm just coming to the tournament as per normal, with the normal amount of pressure.

"And if I get to No. 1, I will. But I have to give my best every day and play to enjoy the moment."

Still, the 25-year-old cannot deny that the top ranking remains on her agenda. She was 65 ranking points behind Muguruza, who had 6,030 points, yesterday.

Asked what her motivation is as the tennis season winds down, Halep, a semi-finalist here last year, replied: "The No. 1 thing, because I am close. These tournaments are good tournaments, they're big tournaments.

"Maybe I can do better here but you never know."

Halep and Pliskova open their Wuhan Open campaigns tomorrow, with qualification for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global also on their radar. They are second and third in the Porsche Race to Singapore respectively, behind the already-qualified Muguruza. The top eight singles players will qualify for the Oct 22-29 event.

Wuhan - along with Montreal, Rome, Cincinnati, and Doha - form the Premier 5 events on the WTA circuit, a tier below the Premier Mandatory events.

Should the duo fall short of their quest to become world No. 1 here, they can try again at next week's China Open in Beijing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 25, 2017, with the headline 'Halep, Pliskova stay cool in race for no. 1'. Print Edition | Subscribe