Karolina Pliskova, the 6’1” tall Czech blessed with a powerful serve and stamina, was also known for her soft nerves. She was also one of the few players in the top 20 of WTA list to have never ventured into the second week of a Grand Slam: Until this week in New York, when she took out both the Williams sisters to enter her first Grand Slam final.
Pliskova saved match points in a fourth-round encounter against Venus Williams and then retained her absolute cool to knock out Serena in the semifinal. In the process, she became just the fourth player to defeat both the Williams sisters in the same Grand Slam, following Martina Hingis at the 2001 Australian Open, Justine Henin at the 2007 US Open and Kim Clijsters at the 2009 US Open.
Pliskova, who led the charts in aces last year, has a shot at winning her first Grand Slam title in her first foray beyond the third round of a Major. In her path stands the new world no. 1 and Australian Open winner, Angelique Kerber.
While the 24-year-old Pliskova has joined the ranks of champions, very few know about her identical twin sister, Kristyna, who has been toiling in the lower echelons of the sport. Kristyna, a leftie who is an inch shorter than her more famous sister, is currently ranked 122nd in the world. Telling them apart isn’t difficult for seasoned tennis watchers as Kaolina has two tattoos—one on her left thigh and another on her left arm—while Kristyna has just one on the inside of her left arm.
Both sisters took up the sport at the age of four and, as juniors, Karolina won the girls’ title at the 2010 Australian Open while Kristyna triumphed at Wimbledon the same year. In 2013, the twins even won their first WTA doubles title at the Linz Open in Austria, becoming the first twins in tennis history to win one together.
But their fortunes since have dramatically changed. Where Karolina has six WTA singles titles and five doubles ones to her name, the other twin is still to make her mark at a singles tournament. Kristyna has made the main draw of the Majors just 12 times since, and like her sister, has not managed to move past the third round (at Wimbledon last year).
Even their Twitter fortunes don’t match—Karolina has a verified account with more than 36,200 followers (and rising fast), Kristyna has a more moderate following of 1,550 and has only tweeted four times.
Speaking ahead of the first Major this year, Karolina told WTA: “She (Kristyna) has a big game, so hopefully, if she can keep playing like this during the season and if she can start to be a bit more solid and win close matches, which she was losing last year, she can be much higher.” Karolina feels her sister making the top 100 will not be a huge task.
The Pliskova sisters aren’t the only identical twins whose career paths are poles apart. Aljaz Bedene, a beaten finalist at the Chennai Open earlier this year, is 77th in the world and has gone up to a career-high of 45th. His identical twin, Andraz, is now a sporadic presence on the tour, having last played an ATP tournament in June last year.
Andraz reached a career-high of 840, which was “good enough for me”, he once said. In an interview to the ATP, Andraz said that unlike his brother, he did not have the commitment and drive required to play professional tennis day in and day out. Now he infrequently travels to tournaments and manages his famous brother’s social media accounts.
Eugenie Bouchard, the first Canadian to win a WTA singles title, has a fraternal twin sister, Beatrice. While both started playing tennis at the age of five, Beatrice gave up within a year and now lives the life of a college student, occasionally following her younger sister around the tour.
Then, of course, there is the greatest duo in tennis, the Bryan Brothers, who changed the course of men’s doubles with their numerous records and achievements. Mike and Bob Bryan, identical twins, have won 16 Grand Slam men’s doubles titles, and have won more professional games, matches and tournaments (112 tour titles) than any other pairing.
The twins have also enjoyed their numero uno status for a record 139 consecutive weeks, finishing on top at the end of the year 10 times. The Bryans have spoken at length in the past about their close bond, explaining how they run up huge mobile bills when they are in different countries and training separately.
“It defeats the whole purpose of training separately in order to get a fresh perspective, if we are constantly on the phone with each other. So what’s the point?” Mike, the older brother, said in an interview. They have also attributed their fantastic partnership to being mirror twins—Bob is left-handed while Mike is right-handed.
For Mattias and Kristofer Siimar, the Bryans are their inspiration. The Estonian brothers, 18-year-old identical twins, play on the ITF circuit and are yet to turn pro. But they dream about following the Bryans in their footsteps, emulating their success and even their aggressive style of playing. The Siimars are also mirror twins, with Kristofer being the right-hander.
Talking of twins in tennis, can duos that haven’t even picked up their first racquets be far behind? While Roger Federer, of course, remains circumspect of his two sets of twins—identical girls Myla Rose and Charlene Riva and non-identical boys Leo and Lenny— taking up the sport, fans since their births have been excited about the possibility of the siblings following in their superstar father’s steps. That may be an improbable scenario.
For now, Karolina Pliskova will have to fill in as the new (successful) twin on the block.