After a couple of underwhelming days at the WTA Championships 2013, the tournament is set to come alive with Thursday’s blockbuster clash between Serena Williams (Player Info) and Petra Kvitova (Player Info). Check out the Williams v Kvitova Head to Head.
A lot is riding on the outcome of this one. A win for Serena would guarantee her a place in the latter stages and leave Kvitova scrapping with Angelique Kerber and (possibly) Agnieszka Radwanska to be the other Red Group semi-finalist. A win for Kvitova could delay confirmation of both Red Group winners until Friday.
Many fans view Kvitova as the only player with any chance of stopping Serena in Istanbul this year. Victoria Azarenka, the sole woman in the field to beat the American in 2013, may not even be in contention by Saturday, and after admitting to motivation struggles, she seems less than mentally prepared to take down the top seed. Kvitova has never beaten Serena in three meetings, but she is arguably the only player in the world right now who can match her for power, aggression and jaw-dropping winners.
What can we gauge from their performances so far in Istanbul? In both of her matches, Serena has been close to her authoritative best. She took command against Kerber early on and never let up, exerting such a mental edge that the German simply checked out of the final games. Against Radwanska on Wednesday, Serena had to work harder to generate pace and anticipate the Pole’s savvy shotmaking, but the result was only marginally closer. She won 6-2, 6-4 in 82 minutes, dropping serve only once. In the Sinan Erdem Dome, Serena has been playing as she has done throughout the year: with patience, poise and focus.
Kvitova has completed only one match at the Championships, but she was in equally irresistible form. The Czech made Radwanska look weaponless at times during their round robin clash, blasting winners off both wings and using her lefty serve to draw her out of court. She also volleyed brilliantly. Many modern players are criticised for not moving forward when they have the opportunity, but Kvitova raced hungrily to the net, swatting easy putaways and forcing Radwanska to thread the needle with difficult passes.
If both Serena and Kvitova play well at the same time tonight, this could be the match of the tournament. Kvitova had Serena on the ropes in Doha earlier this year before the world number one recovered to win 7-5 in the decider. Their Wimbledon 2012 quarter-final was just as entertaining, a superb exhibition of aggressive grass court tennis.
At her best, Kvitova can hold serve easily and live with Serena from the back of the court. Although not as good a mover, she will aim to come in and end points before Williams has a chance to turn defence into attack. No great lover of strategy, Kvitova sees the ball and hits it, and if she hits it deep and hard and in, all of her opponents, Serena included, are in trouble. Yet Kvitova’s chances rest very much on her ability to execute this Plan A. She has been playing superlative tennis for the last month, but if her level drops she’ll struggle to make an impact.
Once upon a time, Serena was similar – a marvellous ball-striker on a good day but an error-prone ball-basher on a bad one. These days, however, she is a different player entirely: she wouldn’t have won 75 matches this season if she hadn’t expanded her repertoire. Serena knows when to extend rallies and when to pull the trigger. She knows when to use slice and when to unleash ferocious topspin. Even if Kvitova does try to dominate at the net in this match, Serena will toil relentlessly to find a way past, by hitting killer passing shots, pinpoint lobs or charging forward herself.
Prediction: playing her first aggressively-minded opponent in Istanbul will surprise Serena and make her anxious for a set and a half. She and Kvitova will labour deep into a third set before her greater mental strength and bigger arsenal of shots lead her to a deeply satisfying, hard-fought win. In the end, Serena’s shouts of “Come on!” will outnumber Kvitova’s piercing “Pojd!”
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