WTA China Open SFs: Petra Kvitova vs Jelena Jankovic Preview

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Petra Kvitova (Player Profile) will aim to reach her second final in as many weeks when she takes on Jelena Jankovic (Player Profile) in the China Open 2013 semi-finals on Saturday. The Kvitova vs Jankovic Head to Head stands at 2-0.

The Czech earned her berth in the last four the hard way. Facing Li Na – and a boisterous, borderline uncontrollable home crowd – she was pushed to three sets for the 35th time this season.

For over two-and-a-half hours, Kvitova and Li put on a stunning display of power tennis. The Chinese star took the first set thanks to a timely break and some clutch serving, but Kvitova, match tough after motoring to the Japan Open title last Sunday, began to dominate in the second while Li’s level dropped. The former Wimbledon champion broke three times to take it 6-2 and set up an intense decider.

With the home fans roaring on every Li winner (along with every Kvitova error), the third set was characterised by several momentum shifts. A woeful opening service game from Li handed Kvitova the early break, but the fourth seed responded immediately. Defending brilliantly as her lefty opponent showed signs of frustration, Li established a 3-1 lead, to the delight of the 15,000-strong crowd.

Yet she couldn’t sustain it, and Kvitova pounced. She broke to love in the next game and, after some breathtaking rallies, one of which featured 27 brutally hit groundstrokes, was up 5-3. Li fended off a match point in the ninth game, but she could do little on return in the 10th. Despite a patchy performance that included nine double faults and dozens of unforced errors, Kvitova extended her winning streak to eight matches.

With so much focus on the contest between two of 2011’s Grand Slam champions, it’s easy to overlook Jelena Jankovic’s labours earlier on Friday. The Serb survived an even longer three-setter with Lucia Safarova, eventually coming through 6-7(3), 6-4, 6-4.

Jankovic had to rely on her famous defensive skills to counter the left-handed Safarova’s power. After dropping a first set that featured no breaks of serve, the former world number one secured the second by two breaks to one. She was even more aggressive on the return in the decider, winning 75% of the points on Safarova’s second serve. Varying pace, spin and angles, Jankovic held on to reach her sixth semi-final of 2013.

So can Kvitova continue her unexpected late-season surge in the National Tennis Stadium on Saturday afternoon? She has beaten Jankovic in both of their previous encounters, which were played on hard courts. There is little doubt that, at her best, she is a better ball-striker, faster server and bolder player than Jankovic, even though she is seeded one spot below her in Beijing.

During the see-saw battle with Li, we saw why Kvitova has had so many puzzling results this year. Even at the crucial moments, she declined to hold back and “get the ball in play”. Instead, she saw the ball and walloped it, resulting in either a scorching winner or a costly error. But that seemingly fearless mentality is also what has brought her so much success of late. When Kvitova is in the zone, few players, bar Serena, can match her.

Should fatigue become a factor for Kvitova in this semi-final, Jankovic can capitalise with her superior movement and rock-solid defence. However, Kvitova has already dispatched a tireless counter-puncher in Sara Errani this week, and will be be confident of doing so again. She’s due a cleaner match after three back-to-back slugfests, and will overcome Jankovic in two entertaining sets.

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