When Petra Kvitova is told that it’s still February yet she has already reached three finals in 2019, the Czech world No. 3 smiles and simply says: “That’s nice”.
“It’s a bit weird, to be honest,” she continued, addressing reporters after securing a spot in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships final with a hard-fought 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Hsieh Su-Wei on Friday.
“I didn’t really expect anything like that. Well, to be honest, I didn’t expect anything, which I already achieved this year. For me, everything is just bonus. The tennis, it’s a bit like escape this week. This is unbelievable to be in the final when I’m escaping from something. Yeah, very interesting.”
What Kvitova means by ‘escaping’ is the fact that she arrived to Dubai so mentally and emotionally fatigued that she told WTA Insider that the first five weeks of the season – in which she won Sydney and made the Australian Open final back-to-back – were a “crushing time” for her and “I’m not feeling really fresh, to be honest”.
After winning 11 matches in a row, Kvitova fell to Naomi Osaka in the Melbourne final before flying home to pick up her passport with the Russian visa. She flew to St. Petersburg, where she lost in her second match, then went to Monaco, followed by the Czech Republic, where she had to testify in court against the man who attacked her with a knife in her apartment in December 2017.
The gruelling start to the year has understandably taken an emotional toll on Kvitova, but she has still managed to find her fighting spirit in Dubai, battling through three three-setters so far this week, en route to the final.
On Saturday, she takes on 21-year-old Swiss Belinda Bencic, who has also been at her fighting best this week in the Emirates.
It’s a rematch of their Australian Open third round encounter, which Kvitova won 6-1, 6-4.
“The score looked a little bit easy, but it wasn’t easy at all,” said Kvitova of her victory over Bencic in Melbourne.
“I saw her playing some matches. She’s really on fire, playing really well. I think the surface suits her game, as well. I think it’s pretty fast. That’s what she likes to play.”
Kvitova did not drop a set on her way to the Australian Open final last month, and she followed her success over Bencic with a 6-2, 6-1 rout of American teen Amanda Anisimova, who later posted a message on her Instagram saying she given “a lesson” on court that day from the Czech lefty.
Bencic commented on the photo saying, “Welcome to the club” along with the hash-tag “#petrasvictims”.
The young Swiss will be looking to avoid a similar fate in her rematch with Kvitova in Dubai on Saturday.
“There she was on the roll. I mean, Anisimova was playing amazing. Petra crushed all of us. We were trying so hard. It was 6-2, 6-1, then 6-3, 6-1, until the final,” Bencic said after her semi-final win over Elina Svitolina in Dubai on Friday.
“That’s why I said it. Yeah, of course she’s in great form. Maybe this tournament I’m also in great form. It will be a tough final. The final is always two great players. I’m very happy to play her. Yeah, we’ll see. Hopefully I will not be Petra’s victim.”
Bencic has taken out three top-eight seeds back-to-back this week: Aryna Sabalenka (No. 8), Simona Halep (No. 3) and Svitolina (No. 6).
The former world No. 7 ended Svitolina’s 12-match winning streak in Dubai with a 6-2, 3-6, 7-6(3) triumph, to reach her biggest final since Toronto 2015.
Bencic broke Svitolina when the Ukrainian two-time defending champion was serving for the match at 5-4 in the final set. And even though Svitolina saved three match points two games later, she succumbed to Bencic in the tiebreak, seeing her bid for an unprecedented Dubai three-peat come to an end.
“I think from 3-5 [in the final set], I just completely zoomed out. I think I was playing the same, even though I lost the match points. Somehow I was still focused, I don’t know why,” said the 45th-ranked Bencic.
“I had a big chance on the first match point. I went for too much. I think I did the right thing. I was doing the right thing. Basically I stayed in the zone, even in tiebreak.
“I was barely breathing, just playing automatic. You are not thinking any more. It’s where the instincts just guide you through it.”