Karolina Pliskova, the No. 1 women’s seed in the United States Open, was beaten in the second round by Caroline Garcia, 6-1, 7-6 (2) on Wednesday.
A significant upset on paper, it was no great surprise in the grand scheme of women’s tennis, which has become a free-for-all in recent seasons.
Garcia, a powerful French player with a complete game, was once ranked as high as No. 4 in 2018. She already had split her previous six matches with Pliskova, and though she arrived unseeded at this Grand Slam tournament, she was the more consistent and resourceful player at Louis Armstrong Stadium.
Pliskova, a flat-hitting and big-serving Czech, arrived in New York with a big opportunity with six of the world’s top 10 players missing, including No. 1 Ashleigh Barty and No. 2 Simona Halep.
But Pliskova, who reached the 2016 U.S. Open final after upsetting Serena Williams, remains perhaps the most accomplished women’s player without a Grand Slam singles title.
After a first round that was surprisingly stable with the top 24 seeds all advancing, the women’s tournament returned to its more usual unpredictability on Wednesday. Four of the top 16 seeds were beaten in the second round: Pliskova, No. 11 Elena Rybakina, No. 12 Marketa Vondrousova and No. 13 Alison Riske.
Pliskova’s defeat leaves two American women as the top remaining seeds: No. 2 Sofia Kenin and No. 3 Williams, who is chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.
But instability has been the rule, with five different women winning the last five Grand Slam singles titles before the five-month hiatus forced by the coronavirus pandemic. Since the start of 2017, there have been eight first-time major singles champions. By comparison, there have been no first-time singles champions during that period in the men’s game.
Another women’s surprise would thus not be a surprise in New York, particularly with players coming off an extended break.
Garcia could not play tennis at all when the hiatus began. She was training in Spain at Rafael Nadal’s academy in Majorca when Spain and much of Europe went into lockdown in March. Unable to fly back home to her home city of Lyon, France, she remained in Majorca in an apartment with her parents and was not allowed to train outdoors or play tennis for several weeks.
But she has returned to the circuit in fine form and after losing last week in the second round of the Western & Southern Open to Victoria Azarenka, the eventual champion, she has yet to drop a set in the U.S. Open at the same site.
“I knew I could give her trouble for sure,” Garcia said of Pliskova. “She gets a lot of confidence from her serve, so I was trying to be really focused on the return and trying to make as many returns as I could.”
Next up for Garcia in the third round: Jennifer Brady, an American on the rise who won her first WTA title last month at the Top Seed Open in Lexington, Ky.