Two of the WTA’s in-form players will face off in the quarter-finals of the China Open on Friday as Li Na (Player Profile) will play Petra Kvitova (Player Profile). The Kvitova vs Li Na Head to Head stands at 2-3.
Li booked her spot in the last eight with a hard-fought 7-5, 6-4 victory over Sabine Lisicki. Roared on by a partisan (to say the least) home crowd, the Chinese number one did a reasonable job of protecting her serve, saving six of eight break points. She also broke Lisicki, one of the best servers in the women’s game, four times.
One of the most critical of those breaks came at 5-all in the first set, after Lisicki had recovered an earlier break and looked set to push the set to a tie-break. From 0-40 down, Li won five points in a row to make it 6-5, and took advantage of some Lisicki errors in the next game to establish a one-set lead. The second set followed a similar pattern, with Lisicki just a couple of points away from breaking back to 5-5. But once again Li raised her game at the crucial moment, and eventually triumphed in one hour, 38 minutes.
Although the vociferous home fans would have preferred a more straightforward win for their star player, Li herself will have been happy to come through such a rigorous workout. Her first two matches in Beijing were cakewalks in which she lost just a total of five games; the stern third round test proved that she is playing well enough to defeat formidable power players.
But before Li can start dreaming of a landmark title on home soil, she’ll have to get past Petra Kvitova. The Czech is on a rare roll, having won the trophy in Tokyo last week. Unlike Li, she had to toil her way into the third round, recovering from a set down to beat Varvara Lepchenko. And in the last 16, she played her 34th three-setter of 2013, labouring for two-and-a-half hours before edging Sara Errani 6-4, 6-7(3), 6-3.
It was another typically Kvitova-like performance, a mix of jaw-dropping winners and dubious shot selection. But the difference between her form now and her form in the summer is that she is holding firm when it matters. A few months ago, Kvitova would likely have lost her way after dropping a tight second set; in Beijing, she knuckled down and came through a tricky decider that featured six breaks in nine games.
Like Andy Murray at Wimbledon, Li Na will enter the National Tennis Stadium on Friday carrying an anvil of pressure. She has never made it beyond the semi-finals of the China Open, and her millions of admirers are hoping that this will be her year. And as if the glare of the spotlight isn’t enough to deal with for a player prone to concentration wobbles, she has to play a fellow big-hitter whose confidence is riding high.
Li leads the head-to-head 3-2, but they have split their two hard court meetings. Li is the more consistent ball-striker and is venturing towards the net more often these days; Kvitova can create some devilish angles with her lefty serve and is not afraid of moving forward to punish a short ball. Li is faster and hits flatter; Kvitova compensates for slower foot speed by taking the ball early and putting her full weight into her backhand.
Li has more to lose in this match, and as we saw in the US Open semi-finals against Serena, she can stumble on the big stages. Kvitova is in the winning groove and seems to be enjoying her tennis more than ever. We’ll pick the former Wimbledon champion to come through this one in a nervy, topsy-turvy three-setter.