Petra Kvitova limped into the press conference room in Wuhan, looking utterly exhausted, following what was arguably one of the best WTA matches in 2016 – a clash that saw her battle for almost three and a half hours to beat world No1 Angelique Kerber on Wednesday.
In a showdown between the two highest-ranked lefties on tour – two ladies with a couple of grand slam titles each and a tight head-to-head record against each other, Kvitova was the one walking away as a winner, 6-7 (10), 7-5, 6-4 to set-up a quarter-final meeting with Great Britain’s Johanna Konta. She evened the score against Kerber in the process and they are now locked at 5-5 in career meetings.
The match witnessed 12 breaks of serve, and saw the top-seeded Kerber save six match points before finally surrendering to a peak version of Kvitova, who blasted 55 winners throughout the encounter.
“I think we played really good matches in the past. We are always playing tough matches and close ones. Today was a really special, special one, because we played like over three hours. We played on a really high level the whole three hours,” said a dejected Kerber.
“There are no losers today. Of course, I mean she won the last point, so I think the match was just decided in one, two points, and that’s it. Yeah, I was trying to fight, but she deserved it at the end.
“I think when I sleep tonight and waking up tomorrow, of course I’m a little bit disappointed. But tomorrow when I look back at the match, I think it was a good one and I just can go with positive emotions to Beijing. I am still playing good. I’m looking forward to the last few tournaments of the year.”
Kvitova almost won the first set as she got a set point on the Kerber serve in the 12th game but the world No1 saved it with a fearless backhand down the line winner to force a tiebreak. Kerber saved three more set points in the breaker before grabbing it 12-10 for a one-set lead.
With so many missed opportunities, Kvitova could have waved the white flag and checked out, but she didn’t. Instead, she broke to start the second set and despite dropping serve while serving for it, she regained her advantage and drew level.
The Czech world No16 broke early in the decider but Kerber was relentless. Kvitova had to find her wheels during that third set as she fought through a 41-shot rally, which she lost on a poor backhand smash, in the eighth game. She saved seven break points to hold for 5-3.
Serving for the match in game 10, she hit two winners and an ace to go up 40-0, but Kerber again pegged her back. Kvitova started cramping and double-faulted but somehow found it in her to complete the victory on her seventh match point.
“My body, it’s just really tired I think. I had cramps almost everywhere. But hopefully it will be fine. I should play tomorrow again, so I hope that I will recover kind of fast. I will do what is possible to recover for tomorrow,” said Kvitova.
“This match probably showed me a lot about how good I can play again and how I do feel inside and how I can still be strong mentally. I think it’s a very good signs.”
Soon after on centre court, third-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska snapped Caroline Wozniacki’s seven-match winning streak 6-4, 6-2 to book a quarter-final against Svetlana Kuznetsova, who ended Venus Williams’ title defence on Wednesday with a 6-2, 6-2 triumph.
Wozniacki needed treatment during the match for her neck and she later revealed that it had been hurting her since Tuesday.
“It was my neck, I started feeling it yesterday already before my match, I had some problems with the neck. Then it kind of loosened up during the match yesterday but then this morning it was just worse. I was struggling with it today, but tried my best and just kind of played through it, but it was very tough,” said Wozniacki, who had beaten Radwanska en route to the Tokyo title last week.
“I think I must have slept badly or something, so the neck just kind of got stuck. But hopefully just a couple of days then hopefully I’ll be good to go.”
Earlier in the day, Simona Halep and Madison Keys both claimed victories and will face-off in the last-eight today.
Halep beat Yaroslava Shvedova 6-3, 6-3 while Keys fought off an inspired Daria Kasatkina 6-1, 4-6, 6-4.
The fourth-seeded Halep had retired from her doubles match with Jelena Ostapenko the day before when a ball hit her left ear and the Romanian explained it was a painful experience.
“Me and (Bethanie) Mattek-Sands, we were at the net. Ostapenko wanted to hit the backhand from down the middle, or forehand, I’m not sure. I was with my eyes forward,” said Halep. “She hit me just here (left side of the head). She hit me with the ball like 150 kilometres per hour. I was dizzy in the first moment, but then was much better. So now I feel pain all around here, but it’s okay.”
Halep can secure her qualification spot at the WTA Finals in Singapore if she beats Keys on Thursday.
Rain washed out play on Court 1 halfway through the day which meant that two singles last-16 clashes – Barbora Strycova v Jelena Jankovic, Karolina Pliskova v Dominika Cibulkova – were pushed to Thursday. The winners of those matches will have to play twice on Thursday since Wuhan has a Saturday final, not Sunday.
Wuhan, China — Garbine Muguruza may be struggling with results and has taken another hit in her bid to qualify for the WTA Finals with her opening defeat in Wuhan, but the Spaniard insists there is no need to panic.
The world No3, who fell to Jelena Jankovic in the Wuhan second round on Tuesday, is yet to secure her spot in the top-eight season finale in Singapore, and she is currently at No6 in the race, despite having won a grand slam this year, worth 2,000 valuable points.
Outside her Roland Garros breakthrough title, which she captured last June, Muguruza has made only two semi-finals this season and has amassed just a 30-16 win-loss record. World No1 Angelique Kerber is 55-15 in comparison, winning three titles from seven finals.
But the 22-year-old Muguruza is not concerning herself by her rivals’ accomplishments and is choosing to cut herself some slack.
“I think everybody has their own good stuff. Maybe one is super consistent. Maybe one can play better, I don’t know, in a few tournaments. Someone can be in quarter-finals every tournament. Someone only one. Everybody has their own stuff. I can’t compare me with Angie (Kerber). It’s another type of everything,” said the Spaniard following her loss in Wuhan.
She added: “I feel I’ve been playing tennis forever because I started very young. But I feel I have to take it easy. I feel like me also, ‘Garbine, you’re 22. Who was the last girl that won a grand slam at 22? Relax, it’s not the end of the world. You don’t need to win now everything’. I feel relaxed.
“I need my time. I have to be patient. I don’t have to do anything really. I have to realise that and it doesn’t matter if I win here in Wuhan, I lose or in Beijing. Patience. Because I feel like there is a lot of spotlight on me. I mean, relax.”
Muguruza's 2016 tournaments by number of matches won:— Oleg S. (@AnnaK_4ever) September 27, 2016
7 wins — 1 trn
3 wins — 2 trns
2 wins — 4 trns
1 win — 5 trns
0 wins — 5 trns
Muguruza says her high-risk style of play takes time to come together and that she’s pleased with herself if she is being aggressive, even if she’s hitting “to the fence”.
Her coach, Sam Sumyk, agrees, and was happy with her performance against Jankovic, despite the defeat.
“I like what I’ve seen, I really have no problem with that match, apart from the disappointment of losing,” said the French coach. “I liked her bravery, she was trying to control the rallies. I love how she tried to go and get the match. Many people will not understand but I prefer to be in this situation, Garbine going for the shots instead of running like a rabbit and defending all the time.”
Since Garbine Muguruza won the French Open in June, her record is 8-7 https://t.co/QVvR03nXZT— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) September 27, 2016
Muguruza looked like she was finding it difficult to breathe at times during the match with Jankovic and the Spaniard later explained how this seems to be a recurring issue.
“I was dead. I was like (catching her breath). The points were so long and so intense. I think a combination. When you’re nervous and tense, it’s also hard for me to breathe. I’ve noticed it a little bit also in the US Open. In couple tournaments I feel it’s harder for me to breathe,” confessed Muguruza.
Asked if she felt like she has a plan B, when her big shots are not paying off and going long, Muguruza said: “I think I’m a player that has a lot of ways to play, very aggressive, it’s not only that I just bang the ball and it goes. I think I’m a player that takes a lot of risks.
“Sometimes I have to play with the errors kind of. I have to really accept. I miss the ball, doesn’t matter, I go for the next one, even if I miss again. That’s the way I want to feel. That’s my plan.”
Muguruza is convinced she must stick to her style of play, even if she is losing matches, and she has faith it will eventually paid off. It certainly has paid off before, whether en route to the French Open title this year, or the Wimbledon final last season.
“Obviously, everybody is thinking about the result. Me also. I’m the one that goes to play and wants to win. In the end I know in the back of my mind there’s a certain way I have to play and I got to follow this line,” she says.
“Even though I’m going to lose a couple of matches, but I know eventually I’ll get the few little things to connect and work.”
One of the things that sticks out when covering tournaments is how local media of each country vary widely in the type of questions they pose to the players.
I’ve seen Spaniards ask very technical questions to their players and coaches, “We’ve noticed you now move your right foot that way when you’re hitting the forehand, when did you start doing that?”, the Brits often get personal, “So has your wife forgiven you for that thing you did?”.
Here in China they get creative.
Agnieszka Radwanska, renowned for her finesse and ability to frustrate her opponents with her variety and deft touch, was told by a Chinese reporter on Tuesday that her style is like Tai Chi – it looks soft but has a killer punch to it that knocks out her rivals.
While it took Radwanska a while to figure out what he was saying, and required me to actually demonstrate what I thought Tai Chi was in the middle of the press conference room (no video of that available thankfully), eventually the Polish world No4 gave him an answer.
“Wow. Maybe. If somebody is comparing me to this kind of style, I think it’s good. Those kind of things (martial arts) I think there is always – I think the perfect word is ‘perfection’. If you’re comparing me to those kind of things, this is a good comparison,” said Radwanska.
It’s actually a spot on analogy and one we should use more often to describe Radwanska’s style.
Meanwhile, Olympic champion Monica Puig, who lost early but still stuck around before heading to Beijing for next week’s tournament, spoke about the aftermath of winning the singles gold medal in Rio and how her life has been a bit of a whirlwind ever since.
I asked her if she was particularly surprised by any of the people who reached out and congratulated her for her Olympic triumph. The Puerto Rican said: “I did see a Sports Illustrated article, Mike Tyson. He didn’t even know who won the boxing gold medal, but he knew who won the women’s singles gold medal. I said ‘No way’.
“He’s a tennis fan because his daughter plays tennis. He’s following tennis. I was like ‘What? This is crazy’.
“Even JLo, Marc Anthony, all these people. I was reading all the tweets going ‘wow, this feels so cool’.
“I think the ones that were most important to me were my family and everybody who has been with me during my climb up. It was nice to celebrate with them because everybody was crying with me, so it was great.”