Martina Navratilova praised coach Sascha Bajin for bringing out Karolina Pliskova’s positive side ahead of the Wimbledon final.
It seemed like the Czech’s chances of winning a grand slam title might have passed but, five years after she reached her first final at the US Open, Pliskova will have another opportunity at the All England Club.
The 29-year-old, who dropped out of the top 10 for the first time since 2016 just before the tournament, will take on world number one Ashleigh Barty on Saturday after winning a big-hitting semi-final against Aryna Sabalenka.
Bajin, who coached Naomi Osaka to two of her major titles, began working with Pliskova ahead of the 2021 season.
BBC pundit Navratilova said: “With Sascha, he has definitely loosened her up in that she had previously kept everything in. It looked as if she wasn’t really enjoying herself on court.
“Yesterday she cracked smiles, even on match point when she did that toss. She smiled about it. She is much more relaxed and showing her positive emotions.
“Even the negative. She chucked her racket after she lost the first set – rightfully so. She could have won it, had the opportunities to do so, but held herself together. I think that is where Sascha’s influence has been so good for her, just making her into a much more positive person.
“It’s the best tennis she has probably ever played – better than when she beat Serena Williams five years ago in the semi-finals of the US Open.
“The game was always there. The serve has improved, which is amazing, as it was a pretty big weapon already. The way she carries herself on a court is a different person now.”
Pliskova was one of nine Czech women in the main draw this year, and is looking to make it back-to-back Czech slam champions following Barbora Krejcikova’s triumph at the French Open.
Navratilova, who was born in Prague but won all her 18 grand slam singles titles under the American flag, said: “I really think it is in the water. We are such a small country, and we have produced so many champions.
“But, seriously, the set-up in the Czech Republic is phenomenal. It is cheap, you don’t have to be an elite person economically to be able to play tennis. The same goes for the coaching.
“Now we have a third, fourth generation of people that have been on the tour or played close to professional tennis that are now coaching the new generation.”
Pliskova will go into the match as the underdog against top seed Barty, who is bidding to win her second slam title after triumphing at the French Open in 2019 and has won five of their seven previous meetings.
Barty is wearing an outfit inspired by the dress worn by her friend and mentor Evonne Goolagong Cawley for her maiden title at Wimbledon 50 years ago and is the first Australian to reach the women’s singles final since Goolagong Cawley 41 years ago.
Tracy Austin was beaten by Goolagong Cawley in the semi-finals in 1980 and sees plenty of similarities between the two indigenous Australians.
“It’s a more powerful style but the fact that Ashleigh can take the pace off and change the pace, she moves so well, she’s got the backhand slice, she kind of floats across the court,” said Austin, who is also working for the BBC.
“Her personality is pretty chilled, which we know that Evonne was. If there is anybody on the tour now that replicates Evonne’s game and demeanour, it would be Ash. I think it would be incredible if she could win the title 50 years on.”
:: Martina Navratilova and Tracy Austin are part of the BBC’s Wimbledon line-up. Watch the ladies’ Wimbledon final from 1pm on Saturday, July 10 on BBC One.