Two women who’ve had a year to forget so far will contest the final of the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo.
Until this week, Petra Kvitova (Player Profile) and Angelique Kerber (Player Profile) hadn’t produced anything like their best tennis in 2013. Kvitova, chronically ill and frequently lacking in confidence, has looked a shadow of the player who won Wimbledon and came within a whisker of the number one ranking in 2011. Kerber, who surprised everyone by breaking into the top five last year, has lost many matches to lower ranked players and failed to progress beyond the fourth round of any Grand Slam. Kerver vs Kvitova Head to Head: 2-1.
But in the Japanese capital, both have enjoyed something of a renaissance. After overcoming hotly tipped 16-year-old Belinda Bencic in the second round, Kvitova’s sometimes questionable fitness was put to the test when rain forced her to play two matches on Thursday. Yet she breezed through her third round and quarter-final clashes with Madison Keys and Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets, producing the bold, hard-hitting tennis that brought her the Venus Rosewater Dish two years ago.
In the semi-finals on Friday, the Czech played one of her gutsiest matches in a long time to take out a resurgent Venus Williams 3-6, 6-3, 7-6(2). It wasn’t the cleanest display – Kvitova hit five double faults and a smattering of unforced errors – but she was brilliant in the clutch moments, saving 11 of 13 break points and dominating the deciding set tie-break.
“I’m really happy with how I played,” said the 23-year-old after the two hour, 24 minute slugfest. “It was a very close match, and every game was up and down.”
Kerber has also ousted several notable players this week. She dispatched Ana Ivanovic for the loss of just six games in the third round, and in the last eight beat Agnieszka Radwanska, to whom she had lost in each of the last two years in Tokyo.
During Friday’s evening session at the Ariake Coliseum, the German fought off a determined Caroline Wozniacki to make her first Premier 5 final of the year. Despite surrounding a 5-1 lead in the first set and a 6-2 advantage in the second set tie-break, Kerber held firm when it mattered to complete a 6-4, 7-6(5) victory in one hour, 40 minutes.
So who will make a brilliant week even better by hoisting the trophy in Tokyo? Saturday’s final is the first all-lefty WTA showpiece in four years, and a difficult one to call. Kerber leads the head-to-head 2-1 and won the pair’s only hard court encounter in Cincinnati last year, but that was a close three-setter that could have gone either way.
Without question, the 6’ tall Kvitova has the bigger game and will be tough to beat if she finds the range on her serve and groundstrokes. She has hit 210 aces this year – almost 100 more than Kerber – and is a sight to behold when she steps inside the court unleashes a searing winner. Yet the German is more than just a counterpuncher. It was aggression, especially off the forehand side, that gave her the edge over Radwanska and Wozniacki, and she knows that she’ll have to press if she is to take down a confident Kvitova.
If the seventh seed suffers a letdown after her gruelling battle with Venus, Kerber can win the final by keeping her unforced error count low and getting the extra ball back. But Kvitova looks like she’s ready to join the upper echelons of the women’s game again. Moreover, she demonstrated an ability to adjust tactics against Williams, mixing slice backhands with deep topspins to keep her opponent guessing.
With an eye on securing one of the final spots in the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul next month, Kvitova will put on another barnstorming performance to beat Kerber in two close sets and win the 11th title of her career.