Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Pliskova vs Stephens: snapsots of two careers

Karolina Pliskova
Today at Wimbledon, rising Czech star Karolina Pliskova lost her second round match, going out in straight sets to American CoCo Vandeweghe. CoCo played great, earning her win with her thumping serves and standing toe-to-toe with her fellow big hitter from the baseline. But toward the end of the 7-6 6-4 loss, Pliskova started seeming a bit disengaged. She's always a cool customer, but her shoulders seemed just a tad slumped. Her body language, as they say, was negative.

Sloane Stephens
Later in the day, re-rising American star Sloane Stephens won her second round match, moving on in straight sets over American Lauren Davis. Davis didn't play her best, hitting 19 unforced errors and getting broken 5 times. But toward the end of the 6-4 6-4 win, Sloane was clearly quite engaged. She often seems a bit cool, but her serve was solid and her footwork was active. Her body language was positive.

These two young women, born 364 days apart, provide a fascinating contrast to each other. The contract, to me, raises two intriguing questions - (1) If the world ended today, whose career would you have rather had? and (2) if the world doesn't end today, whose career would you like to have going forward?

To begin the discussion, lets start with the basics: Pliskova is significantly taller and has a bigger serve, leading the WTA in aces so far in 2015.  Sloane is faster, able to get to balls most players could only dream of, perhaps relying a bit too much on her speed for her own good. Pliskova hits flatter most of the time but Sloane is the master of the astonishing flat hard forehand winner (doesn't always work, but it's eye-popping when it does). Neither is particularly demonstrative on court. Karolina has a twin, Krystina; Sloane does not.

Both had solid junior careers, with Pliskova winning the 2010 Australian Open singles title, while Sloane won the other three junior slam titles that year (but all in doubles -- with Timea Babos). Sloane won their lone junior match, 3-6 6-4 6-3 at the 2010 US Open quarters.  (Interestingly, Pliskova is the much more accomplished doubles player as a pro, with 4 WTA titles to Sloane's 0, although the two players are a combined 0-17 in the slams in doubles.)

In terms of pro singles accomplishments, both have a career-high ranking of #11. The difference, of course, is that Pliskova is currently at her career high, while Sloane's came a year and a half ago. Sloane is currently at #37.

Okay so - better career so far? It depends on the metrics you use.

Points for Karolina Pliskova
  • Far, far more wins: Pliskova is 240-152 in singles matches while Sloane is 144-105.
  • The hardware: Pliskova has 4 WTA titles and 6 runner-up trophies. Sloane famously has 0 of both. Pliskova also has 10 ITF titles and 6 runner-up trophies to Sloane's 1 ITF title and 1 runner-up trophy.
Points for Sloane Stephens
  • The majors: Sloane has now won 37 matches in 20 majors played*, with 8 4th round finishes, including a quarterfinal and a semifinal. Pliskova has won 10 main draw matches in 20 majors played. She has yet to reach the 4th round and has reached the 3rd round only twice.
  • The money: Sloane has earned over $3.3 million in career earnings, while Pliskova has made about $2.2 million.
So which player would you say has had the better career? Is it all about the trophies, or all about the cash and the majors?

I would give the slight edge to Karolina Pliskova. Despite her shortcomings, she's still got those 4 titles. Sure, they're all international level events, which Sloane plays relatively few of, but she's got a lot to be proud of with them. Those major failings are getting to be more than just an uncomfortable truth, however, especially as she is getting seeded now.  The grass court loss to Vandeweghe you can handle. The French Open loss to Andreea Mitu? Not quite. Edited to add: And it's worth noting that in none of her title runs did Pliskova face a Top 40 player.

As for the future, I'm high on Sloane going forward.  I think she has been through her sophomore slump and has come out the other side a stronger person and player.  She clearly has a good thing going with Nick Saviano, and is adding to her weapons. She can continue to beef up her serve and hone her variety. If she can rediscover the boldness that she had when she made her run to the top 15, I think by this time next year, we'll no longer be talking about her as final-less. And we may not be talking about Pliskova as the higher ranked player.


Karolina Pliskova
Sloane Stephens
Date of birth
WTA record (incl. slams)
Grand slam record
WTA titles/runner-up
Career earnings

What do you think? Vote in our poll and let us know in comments!

Who has had the better career

* I'm including having participated in qualies in my "majors played" stat.


  1. I'm not so sure "about the same" should be an option. It's an easy out.

  2. It's not even close. Pliskova all the way.