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Sunday, 24 February 2013
It seems to have been a long time coming for Petra Kvitova to reassert herself as a potential force in the WTA. Back at the end of 2011 she was most pundit's pick to ascend to the top, surpassing Victoria Azarenka and providing worthy opposition to returning tour vets Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. There was a Venus Rosewater Dish with her name engraved on it, and a Year End Championship foremost in the memory that pointed to a Kvitova sweep of the majors in 2012. Somewhere along the line though, round about this time last year, the star of the Belorussian Azarenka was rising high in the sky while Kvitova's Czech star was flickering and dimming. She started struggling physically, citing stomach bugs and back strains as reasons for her stumbling performances. The rivalry between Azarenka and Kvitova failed to materialise and the Czech found herself out of the top 5 as she struggled to put together consecutive match wins.
A promising pre-Open swing in North American last summer went someway to suggesting that Kvitova's woes were only temporary, but mediocrity set in once again at Flushing Meadows and her season withered away to leave her at the lower end of the top 10 by the end of the year. Dubai marks the first time in nearly six months that a buzz surrounds the Czech woman and precedes her participation in a tournament.
Making it all the way to the final of the event, the most significant indicator that Kvitova may be approaching the player that she was when she captured the Wimbledon title came two rounds earlier when she took out the highest seed in the event, defending champion, Aga Radwanska. A hugely aggressive display from the Czech world #8 saw her overpower her tactically-minded opponent to post a straightforward 64 64 victory. Radwanska is a player who has stealthily progressed through the rankings to her current residency at #4. Rather than relying on power like most of her contemporaries, the Pole uses defence to wear her opponents down before exploiting court dynamics and her own superior fitness to expose their weaknesses. This game plan was irrelevant against an all-firing Kvitova whose power consistently negated Radwanska's strategic play.
More top 10 opposition followed in the semi-final for Kvitova as she took on former WTA top seed Caroline Wozniacki. Another defensive player, Wozniacki wasn't allowed an opportunity to attack, Kvitova frequently pushing her back behind the baseline, leaving the Dane with few attacking options and resorting to defensive high balls. Sweeping through the match, Kvitova posted a commanding 64 63 victory.
Saturday's final saw her meet the Little Italian that Could, Sara Errani for the first singles silverware for either player this season. Both players may have ultimately benefited from Williams and Azarenka withdrawing from the competition through injury, but neither didn't deserve their place in the final. For the third match in a row, Kvitova played authoritatively, leaping out to an early lead that eventually transformed into a 62 opening set. The winners were once again flying off both wings and Errani was made to look exceptionally short both in foot speed and wingspan.
Taking the opening game in the second set, Kvitova looked to be cruising. However, Errani, who is currently ranked #1 alongside countrywoman Roberta Vinci in doubles, strategised an emergency game plan to stop the match slipping away. Rarely seen in the women's game these days, she started to serve and volley, coming into the net more frequently to utilise her obvious doubles abilities. It began to pay dividends immediately as Kvitova, with a different view of the court, began to lose both impetus and direction on her ground strokes. Sweet touches from the Italian at the net frustrated the Czech so much that she failed to win another game in the set.
Set three saw the tables flipped once again as Errani held serve in her opening game, but then ceded the next 6 games to Kvitova who had, it appeared, finally found a way to counter the Italian's net game. With a final score of 62 16 61, the hope that Kvitova can return to the dominant form that epitomised her championship run at SW19 was evident in the commanding displays of the first and final sets. Her wavering second set can partially be attributed to some clever Plan B play from Errani, but suggests that there is still a way before Kvitova can truly be considered a safe bet for the majors in a field strengthened by the presence of the current top 3. Indian Wells and Miami could be good indicators of how well Kvitova can sustain this current vein of good form.