Kvitova bursts Barty’s bubble
Kvitova bursts Barty’s bubble
Petra Kvitova is back in the semifinals of the Australian Open for the first time in seven years after a thumping display of clean, aggressive tennis against Ash Barty.
Kvitova beat the Australian 6-1 6-4 in their highly-anticipated night-time quarterfinal at Rod Laver Arena, requiring just 68 minutes to advance.
In the semifinals, the Czech will face Grand Slam novice Danielle Collins as she bids to reach a major final for the first time since she won Wimbledon in 2014.
When interviewing Kvitova on court after the match, Jim Courier referenced that lengthy gap between deep runs at a major tournament and alluded to the "challenges" she'd faced in the years since then.
As the sympathetic crowd applauded increasingly loudly, Kvitova was overcome with emotion, her voice cracking as she admitted she doubted she would return to her Grand Slam-winning heights after surviving a grisly knife attack - which severely damaged her playing hand - in her home in the Czech Republic in December 2016.
"No, really. I didn't really imagine to be back on this great stadium and play with the best," she said.
This was a rematch of the Sydney International final just 10 days ago; Barty noted that it was rare to get another crack at the same opponent again so soon.
Yet this clash bore no resemblance to their sapping epic in Sydney’s humidity, where Kvitova started the match flat-footed and looked increasingly drained before clawing to victory in a final-set tiebreak while battling cramp.
In cooler, drier conditions under lights at Melbourne Park, Kvitova was dialed-in from the opening point, collecting the first three games before Barty dug into some rallies in the fourth game and benefitted from some Kvitova errors to get on the board at 1-3.
But she would not win another game for the set.
Kvitova’s movement was exceptional; you could hear her rapid little adjustment steps on the Plexicushion as her shoes squeaked into position to unleash her full-flooded groundstrokes.
She belted 12 winners to two on her way to pocketing the first set in under half an hour.
"Petra is absolutely capable of taking a match away from someone. I knew that going in," Barty conceded.
"At times it's very much out of my control, what she does from her end of the court. In the beginning, she served particularly well. Even when I was hitting my spots on first serves, she was returning within a metre or two of the baseline, putting me on the back foot instantly."
"She was clean as a whistle tonight. I have to give all credit to her."
Barty and the crowd were somewhat stunned, yet the Australian – the first local woman to appear in the Australian Open quarterfinals since Jelena Dokic in 2009 – settled into a groove on serve and began to look more comfortable.
She held her first four service games relatively comfortably as the two women went game for game in a vastly more competitive second set.
Yet Barty’s game unravelled at 4-4; three straight forehand errors handed Kvitova a crucial break.
An ace followed by a forehand winner brought up two match points, and the world No.6 converted on her first when Barty’s backhand return found the net.
Kvitova’s victory extends her head-to-head record over Barty to 4-0.
"I served well, I took the first break and I think from that time I was up, in the second she came back, and she didn't give me anything for free. I really had to fight until the end," Kvitova said.
"Ash has great slice from the backhand, chipping round and mixing up, so I knew I had to be very, very low and hit it as I could to not really give her a chance to play her game."
The victory is a continuation Kvitova's dominant fortnight at Melbourne Park; she has dropped just 22 games en route to the semifinals and has not been extended in any set beyond 6-4. She is also on a 10-match winning streak.
She is nonetheless wary of Collins, the world No.35.
"She doesn't really have the experience but on the other hand she's very fearless and she's very aggressive," Kvitova said.
"I do remember (our last) match in Brisbane - it was really up and down and she was serving for the match, so I really need to be better this time," she added, before smiling.
"It's semifinals, so who cares?"