Garbine Muguruza has described Petra Kvitova’s stunning return to the top-10 just over a year after she was attacked and had surgery on her injured hand as “incredible” the Spanish Wimbledon champion told reporters in Dubai on Tuesday.
Kvitova, who was stabbed in her left playing hand in December 2016 and sustained damage in all five fingers, is currently on a 13-match winning streak that included back-to-back title runs in St. Petersburg and Doha and six victories against top-10 opponents.
The Czech’s latest victim was Muguruza, in the Doha final last Sunday.
“I heard the news. I saw the picture of the hand. I never talked to her [Kvitova] about it. Obviously I’m like not even close to, you know, personal [with her]. But I think it’s incredible,” said Muguruza, who opens her Dubai campaign against Catherine “CiCi Bellis” in round two in Dubai on Wednesday.
“I heard she doesn’t really feel certain parts of the hand. I’m like, I don’t even understand how can you play that good.
“I remember in the trophy ceremony, they gave her it, and the man asked her, ‘You’re winning 13 matches in a row’.
“She is like, ‘Yeah, it’s magic. I was one year ago in a difficult situation’.
“Then I realised, ‘Yeah, it’s true’.
“Maybe she sees now so different. Maybe she’s playing good also because she realize like, Hey, who cares. I play good, I’m happy. Sometimes you need this to suddenly kind of… So I’m very surprised.”
Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, returned to action last year at Roland Garros, just six months after being attacked. She won Birmingham in her second tournament back and took her game to the next level this month with her two titles.
British No. 1, Johanna Konta, applauded Kvitova’s strength, saying on Monday after her opening round win in Dubai: “I think it’s very deserved. I think putting aside the challenges that she’s had off court, just her on court mannerisms, her on-court persona, she’s a very, very classy champion.
“I think she plays that way. She plays with a lot of self-confidence. That comes through in these big wins that she earns.
“Off the court, I mean, she’s just as much of a strong person.”
Agnieszka Radwanska, who lost a tight three-setter to Kvitova last week in Doha, praised the 27-year-old’s sustained high level throughout the tournament.
“I think she played amazing. Of course, well done that she was keep playing at the same level till the end. You know, winning against Caro and Garbine, it’s pretty huge thing. All those tight matches, long matches… Well done. She deserve it, for sure,” said Radwanska after her loss to Daria Kasatkina on Monday in Dubai.
Kvitova pulled out of Dubai with a leg injury and is expected to next compete at Indian Wells.
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Johanna Konta enjoyed a winning start on her Dubai debut, overcoming a stiff first-set challenge from Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova before advancing to the second round in straight sets on Monday night.
Konta, seeded No. 7 in Dubai, received a wildcard to enter the tournament. She was meant to make her first appearance in the Emirates last year but pulled out at the last minute with a foot injury.
The British No. 1 went down an early break to trail Pavlyuchenkova 2-4 but rallied back to win three games on the trot and lead 5-4.
That ninth game lasted 14 minutes and the pair pushed each other to a tiebreak before Konta pulled ahead.
The 26-year-old Konta, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon last year, broke for a 2-0 gap in the second set before Pavlyuchenova took a lengthy medical timeout for a back issue.
It didn’t seem to help the Russian’s cause as Konta broke again for a 5-1 advantage and she sealed a 7-6 (2), 6-2 victory in one hour and 43 minutes to set up a second round against Daria Kasatkina.
“It was definitely going to be tricky. But I knew going into the match that it was going to be. She’s the kind of player that can play very hot and cold. When she’s on, she’s very on. I knew going into the match, actually the first set, she was very tricky to play,” said Konta.
“The conditions are quite fast as well, so it doesn’t lend itself to necessarily a little rhythm. I really just tried to have good tolerance out there.
“I was very clear of what I was trying to do out there, trying to have good acceptance that sometimes I wasn’t going to be able to do it, otherwise just try to fight, get as many balls back to ask her those questions, and when I had my opportunities to try to play the way I wanted to play.”
For more than a decade, Agnieszka Radwanska has tortured many opponents with her variety, impeccable shot selection, exquisite placement and cunning slices.
That one-of-a-kind game – as her coach Tomasz Wiktorowski would describe it – took her to No. 2 in the world, got her into a Wimbledon final, and saw her achieve great success on tour.
But as the 28-year-old Pole attempts to climb back up the rankings following a disappointing 2017 ruined by injuries, Radwanska is forced to face a younger generation of opponents, who hit harder, run faster, and share some of her magical qualities.
That was the case on Monday when 20-year-old Daria Kasatkina defeated Radwanska 7-5, 6-4 in the opening round of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
It was Kasatkina’s first match win in Dubai, on her second visit to the tournament while Radwanska is a veteran who won the event in 2012.
“I think she can do everything on court. Very good hands, very good touch. She can mix it up. So obviously I think that what makes her very difficult opponent,” said Radwanska of the young Russian.
You’d think Radwanska was describing herself not Kasatkina.
“Of course, everything changed. Especially I think physically it’s also tougher than it was, especially playing the young ones. Intensity in the game, it’s always bigger. You playing more those longer, good matches. So sometimes, physically and mentally it’s also tough,” added Radwanska.
Kasatkina needed five set points to secure a 7-5 lead over the former Dubai champion then went up a break in the second. Radwanska drew level for 3-all though but then faced a slew of break points in game seven and dropped serve to give Kasatkina the edge once again.
Still Radwanska would not fade and she broke back immediately. Another break followed as Kasatkina put herself in the position to serve for the match at 5-4 and this time, she did not falter, closing out the clash in just under two hours.
Radwanska says she’s finally feeling healthy once again but believes the road back to the top-10 can be a long one – she is currently ranked 31.
“I know it’s going to be difficult. Everything is changing going forward,” she explained.
Kasatkina is now 2-0 against Radwanska, having also defeated her in a close three-setter in Beijing last year.
“I was just ready for this. Everybody knows that Aga is a tricky player. She can play unbelievable winners from any part of the court, doesn’t matter where. So I was kind of ready for that,” explained Kasatkina, who is ranked No. 24 in the world.
“I was just trying to focus only on my shots. If she hits some unbelievable shot, not to put too much attention on this…
“Against these kind of players, you have to be patient, otherwise you can go crazy. You can lose few important points in a row. This is what they’re waiting for. So, yeah, the important part was really mental.”
Kasatkina credits her creative style of play to watching a lot of men’s tennis growing up combined with pure instinct.
She hopes to end the season in the top-15 and believes she’s progressing at a solid rate.
“I feel much better. I feel much stronger than last year. I think that’s normal to feel like this, especially when you’re 20 years old. So, yeah, I feel like I’m really improving.”
Another young talent to advance on Monday is Japanese wildcard Naomi Osaka, who eased past an ailing Kristina Mladenovic 6-2, 6-2 and will face either Anett Kontaveit or Sam Stosur in round two.
“I’m not feeling really well. I’m ill. It started in Doha and I imagine it’s fatigue from playing Melbourne, St. Petersburg, Fed Cup, really good in a row, and then I arrived in Doha, and maybe a strange climate, and maybe a virus there. Definitely I didn’t feel good out there but also I’ve got to give credit to Naomi who served pretty strong and solid and took her chances,” said the French No. 8 seed.
Osaka, who made the fourth round of the Australian Open last month, is making her second appearance in Dubai, and has matched her best result here by making the second round.
“I just tried to stay really positive throughout the whole thing,” said the 20-year-old Osaka of her opener against Mladenovic.
“I know she can be really tricky, so I just didn’t really want to, like, show that I was frustrated because then she probably would have, like, upped her game.”
Other winners on Monday include Russian pair Elena Vesnina (defeated Peng Shuai) and Ekaterina Makarova (ousted Anastasija Sevastova).