This past weekend, Kvitova carried her nation to a third Fed Cup championship in four years. The Czech Republic moved past a determined German contingent in Prague, sweeping the first three matches in the best of five series. Kvitova was responsible for two of those victories, both in singles, each a testament to her ability to perform commandingly under pressure. Kvitovas appealing teammate Lucie Safarova contributed the other win for her team, and so the Czech Republic swept to another impressive win in the prestigious international team competition that is the female version of Davis Cup. Kvitovas exploits and the success of the Czech Republic should not be taken for granted; the Fed Cup is much more important than most observers realize.
Lets look at what transpired in Prague sequentially. Kvitova opened the proceedings against the demonstrative and ferocious Andrea Petkovic. Petkovic was ranked No. 14 in the world. She had just won the tournament in Sofia, and in June she advanced to the semifinals of the French Open. Petkovic is 27, and no stranger to big situations. She knew how difficult it would be to topple an in form Kvitova at Prague, but the German was not about to shy away from the confrontation. Petkovic is a player who seldom seems daunted by adversaries with wider arsenals or larger reputations. Her backcourt game is formidable. Her will to win is considerable. Her spirit can often be indomitable.
Yet Kvitova was in no mood to give away anything. What stood out to me about her performance was her discipline from beginning to end. The remarkably creative left-hander went about her business with enormous resolve and a purposefulness that she does not always demonstrate. Kvitovas flair and imagination were evident at all stages against Petkovic, but she was sound and thoughtful as well. Kvitova waited for the right openings, went for her shots without inhibition, but was never reckless. She moved out ahead in this duel with Petkovic, sustained her intensity and concentration, and did not look back.
In the second game of the first set, Petkovic double faulted to fall behind 15-40 and served another double fault at 30-40 to lose her serve. Kvitova surged to 3-0 by holding at 15. She took 12 of 17 points to put herself in that comfortable position. Petkovic commenced the fourth game with a forehand winner down the line, and she held at love with authority. But Kvitova was soaring. She held at 15 for 4-1 and then broke for 5-1 as Petkovic could not close out that sixth game from 40-15.
Kvitova moved swiftly to 40-15 in the following game, reaching double set point. But she double faulted and netted a backhand down the line to allow Petkovic back to deuce. Another double fault gave Petkovic a break point, and she converted when Kvitova netted an approach shot off the forehand. It was 5-2 in favor of the No. 1 player for the Czech Republic. She did not fret about her brief and inexplicable lapse, breaking Petkovic in the following game to seal the set 6-2.
But Petkovic had elevated her game, and she broke Kvitova in the first game of the second set. At 15-40, Kvitova served an ace down the T, but Petkovic followed immediately with a nifty backhand crosscourt return winner. Petkovic had a cushion as she served at 1-0, but it did not last. At 30-40, she was coaxed into an error off the backhand by a crackling forehand from Kvitova. It was 1-1. Kvitova promptly held at love for 2-1 with a service winner and an ace back to back, but Petkovic stuck diligently to her task, holding at 15 for 2-2. Kvitova trailed 15-30 in the fifth game, but collected three points in a row for the hold, releasing a service winner down the T, pounding a crosscourt forehand that Petkovic could not answer, and implementing the classic lefty serve out wide in the ad court to set up a forehand winner up the line.
Now Kvitova led 3-2, but Petkovic remained aggressive off the ground, holding tenaciously for 3-3 at 30. Kvitova started the sixth game with a double fault, but she drew an error from Petkovic with a dazzling backhand down the line for 15-15. Then she made up for a poorly executed forehand approach by angling a forehand drop volley acutely crosscourt for a winner. A drop shot winner off the forehand made it 40-15 for Kvitova. She lost the next point but at 40-30 she swung another first serve out wide to the Petkovic backhand. Kvitova realized the return would be weak. She made a delayed approach to the net, and assertively put away a backhand swing volley: 4-3 for Kvitova.
The host nations star player had a break point for 5-3, but missed a backhand return. Petkovic held on sternly for 4-4, but she was receiving no help from Kvitova, who served an ace to hold easily for 5-4. Now serving to stay in the match, Petkovic rallied admirably from 0-30 to 30-30. But then she double faulted. Kvitova had arrived at match point, and made the most of it, craftily slicing a backhand short to provoke a forehand down the line error from Petkovic. Kvitova prevailed 6-2, 6-4. Her maturity carried her deservedly across the finish line. She was simultaneously both consistent and brilliant. The Czech Republic had a 1-0 lead.
Out stepped Safarova to take on Angelique Kerber in the crucial second contest. Safarova looked to build the lead for her country, while Kerber hoped to put Germany back on level ground. The left-handed Safarova was down 0-30 in the opening game, but she swept four points in a row to hold for 1-0, closing that game with an ace down the T. Now Kerber put her lefty game impressively on display, holding at love for 1-1. Kerber was the better player from the baseline in the early stages. She had a break point for 2-1, but Safarova stymied the German with a service winner out wide in the ad court. Kerber had a second break point, but Safarova aced her down the T. Safarova held on for 2-1.
Yet Kerber briefly seized control of the battle. She held from 0-30, sweeping four consecutive points, proving once more that very few women in the world can surpass her defensive skills. Kerber broke Safarova for 3-2, drawing her opponent in with a drop shot, provoking an error with that tactic. Kerber held at 15 for 4-2 with an ace.
Safarova was in considerable trouble, and she knew it. In the seventh game, the score went to deuce, but the No. 2 singles player for the Czech Republic pressed on with spunk and spontaneity. The 27-year-old exploited a short return from Kerber to crack a forehand that was too good, and then sent a first serve into the Germans body. Kerber erred on the backhand return. Safarova had closed the gap to 4-3. Kerber became apprehensive in the eighth game, losing her serve at 15, committing a backhand unforced error at double break point down. Safarova was rolling now, perhaps inexorably. She held at 30 for 5-4 with a sparkling ace down the T in the ad court. Kerber was clearly uncomfortable and perplexed. Serving at 30-30 in the tenth game, she double faulted into the net. Kerber erased one set point against her when Safarova drove a forehand return long.
Yet Safarova created a second set point opportunity with a clean winning forehand down the line. Kerber thought she had made it back to deuce when she sent a forehand down the line, hoping and believing her shot would be a winner, screaming as if the point belonged to her. But Safarova was still very much in the point, chasing that ball down. The point instead belonged to her on the hindrance rule. Kerber had celebrated too soon when she joyously yelled out. She did not even bother to protest, knowing full well she had been at fault.
On that bizarre note, the set had gone to Safarova, 6-4. But Kerber commendably gathered herself for a fresh path toward a possible victory. Safarova double faulted to 15-40 in the opening game of the second set before saving a break point. But Kerber connected brilliantly at 30-40 with a magnificent forehand down the line winner. She held at 15 for 2-0. Although Safarova collected two games in a row to reach 2-2, the German captured eight of the next ten points to establish a 4-2 lead. In the first set, she had been in an identical position, only to lose four consecutive games.
That did not seem likely to happen again, but Safarova had other notions. She produced a superb service game to hold at love in the seventh game. Still up a break at 4-3, Kerber led 30-0, lost the next two points, and then double faulted at 30-30. She missed a forehand down the line on the next point. Safarova had taken eight of ten points to make it 4-4. The ninth game was hard fought and pivotal. Safarova was down break point at 30-40, but she came through decidedly in the clutch, driving a forehand down the line with uncanny control for a timely and outright winner. She eventually held on with an ace down the T to move ahead 5-4.
Poor Kerber was out of sorts. Serving to stay in the match, she double faulted into the net for 0-15, and double faulted wide to make it 0-30. Safarova went to 0-40, triple match point. Kerber saved the first match point with an overhead winner, and wiped away a second when Safarova flagrantly mishandled a forehand that wildly missed its mark. Kerber came forward at 30-40, but was left stranded as Safarova directed a forehand down the line passing shot into an open space. Safarova had rallied from 2-4 down in both sets to win this all lefty battle 6-4, 6-4. The Czech Republic had taken a commanding 2-0 lead into the second and last day of the final round in the international team competition.
I only saw highlights of the stirring, lefty versus lefty encounter between Kvitova and Kerber, but the facts speak loudly about what a compelling match it was. Kerber gave it her all, and then some. But it was not enough to halt an unwavering Kvitova. Kerber had every conceivable chance to secure the opening set. She served for it no fewer than three timesat 5-2, 5-4 and 6-5and had six set points altogether. Somehow, Kvitova was victorious in the 76 minute set, claiming it seven points to five in a tie-break.
Kvitova seemed certain to wrap it all up for the Czech Republic when she moved ahead 3-0 in the second set. She was up two service breaks. Victory was almost tangible. But Kerber is not No. 10 in the word without good reason. She is a seasoned and formidable match player. She uses her lefty tools intelligently. She is a first rate tennis player with a strong disposition and a keen understanding of her craft. And, more than anything else, Angelique Kerber is a fighter of the front rank. After dropping those first three games of the second set, she took nine of the next ten to win the second set and establish a 3-0 final set lead.
Now it was Kvitovas turn to prove what an outstanding competitor she can be. The Wimbledon champion proceeded to sweep six of the last seven games to record a 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 triumph that gave the Czech Republic another rewarding victory. They achieved this one at home. A pair of left-handers had joined forces to make it happen. Safarova had done her part with class and character. But ultimately, the banner headlines were reserved largely for Petra Kvitova, who ended a majestic 2014 campaign on the highest possible note, and widened her legion of admirers worldwide with her class, character and artistry.
Know this abut Kvitova: her best may very well be yet to come.
<Steve Flink has been reporting on tennis since 1974. He has been a columnist for tennischannel.com since 2007. You can purchase Steve’s latest book “The Greatest Tennis Matches of All Time” here.
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