Kvitova, Osaka Come From Behind To Garner Stuttgart Semifinal Berths

Petra Kvitova (photo: Porsche Tennis Grand Prix)

STUTTGART, April 26, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

With four of the WTA’s Top 10 players in action during the quarterfinal round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, on Friday, a ticket to the 4,200-seat Porsche Arena was a coveted item for both day and night sessions. Not only was the grand prize, a brand-new Porsche 911 Carrera 4S Cabriolet, on display adjacent to Centre Court for everyone to see and envy. There was plenty of great tennis action on Centre Court, too.

Each match delivered on its promise of top-quality tennis in this WTA Premier clay event.

Kvitova first into Saturday’s semifinals

Two-time Stuttgart quarterfinalist and No. 7 seed Anastasija Sevastova came ready to play when she took Centre Court at Porsche Arena against World No. 3 Petra Kvitova, who was attempting to reach her third semifinal here. With a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head, the diminutive (1.69 m) Latvian jumped out to a 4-0 lead in the opening set by garnering points on both her first and second serves and pulling her opponent out wide with her returns. She broke Kvitova’s serve in each of the Czech’s first two service games by attacking her taller (1.82 m) opponent. Then, Sevastova was solid in her last two service games as she closed out the 29-minute first set 6-2.

Unfortunately for Sevastova, her game peaked too soon and Kvitova, despite playing in just her second clay-court match of the season, gained momentum and coasted to a 2-6, 6-2, 6-3 victory to advance to Saturday’s semifinals against No. 6 seed Kiki Bertens. It was Kvitova’s first win over Sevastova in eight years and she improved to 7-4 in three-set matches this year.

On serve in the second set through five games, Kvitova broke Sevastova at love to go ahead 4-2 as she began to find her rhythm and footing. She consolidated the break for a 5-2 lead and broke Sevastova at love, again, winning the set 6-2 with a blistering forehand return.

Kvitova began the final set with a service hold as she pounded her sixth service ace. Then, ahead 2-1, she broke Sevastova for the third time in the match when the Latvian hit a forehand return long. Ahead 3-1, Kvitova went to work, point by point, and controlled the tempo. She had an easy hold for 4-1, but was broken by Sevastova in her next service game. Later, on serve at 4-3, Kvitova converted her fourth of four break points as Sevastova netted an easy forehand. It put Kvitova ahead 5-3 with the finish line in sight. She closed out the one hour and 32 minute match on her first-match point opportunity after Sevastova netted a forehand return.

“Without a fight probably I already lost,” said Kvitova, as quoted by the WTA website. “Yes, the first set I started really really bad. I didn’t really feel great, I was very slow, my arm wasn’t moving at all and it was really difficult. She didn’t miss anything and I missed everything.

“I think she played a really good game. She was mixing up a bit and she was moving well as well. It was pretty difficult.”

Kvitova finished with seven service aces and won 75 percent of her first-serve points. She outpointed Sevastova 76-61. The Czech is now into her fourth semifinal in eight 2019 events.

Osaka wins first clay-court WTA quarterfinal

Three years have passed since World No.1 Naomi Osaka and Donna Vekic last played, back in the first round of the 2016 Australian Open. Both players were ranked outside of the Top 100. Fast forward to Friday afternoon and Osaka, playing in her first WTA clay-court quarterfinal, started well and won the opening set 6-3. Then, Vekic came back to take the middle set 6-4 and had Osaka on the ropes in the final set, ahead 5-1. However, there’s a reason Osaka is ranked No. 1: she knows how to close out a match.

Osaka, who never faced match point, won five straight games and rebounded to beat the No. 25 Vekic, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4), in two hours and 18 minutes.

Osaka’s second-round win over Hsieh Su-wei on Thursday, which was just the 10th clay-court main-draw win in her pro career assured her of remaining No. 1 in the WTA rankings next week. She has now made the semifinals or better in three of her six tournaments this year.

“I don’t understand why people are saying I’m having a bad season,” said Osaka during her post-match press conference. “I won the Australian Open, right? Last year I didn’t win the Australian Open. Sure, I didn’t win Indian Wells (this year), but I still thought I did pretty good there, and I’m here now. Sometimes, I hear people say, ‘Naomi’s kind of struggling’ and I’m like ‘yo’ (laughter).”

Osaka also said, “I feel like I try not to panic anymore because that takes up more energy and I don’t really have that much energy to spare. I just try to think logically and see how I can solve the problem.”

Big-hitting Bertens’ serve is her biggest weapon

World No. 7 and sixth seed Kiki Bertens fired 20 aces during her second-round match against No. 20 Belinda Bencic to advance to Friday’s quarterfinals. It drew a lot of attention to the right-handed serving Bertens from the Netherlands, who is second behind World No. 4 Karolina Pliskova for most aces this season.

On Friday evening, Bertens hit just five aces, but she won 75 percent (41 of 55) of her service points against World No. 5 and fifth seed Angelique Kerber and bested the two-time Stuttgart champion, 6-3, 6-4, in just 75 minutes.

“We worked on (the serve) a lot during the off-season, just hit a lot of balls, just trying to the rhythm a little bit faster,” said Bertens, as quoted by the WTA website on Thursday. “Also physically we worked a lot just to get the rotation a little bit more over the serve and coming a little bit more from the legs. So, I’m really happy that it’s paying off.”

Bertens, who had split her previous four meetings with Kerber, did not face any break points front the German during the match. She finished with 29 winners to 21 unforced errors while Kerber managed just 11 winners compared to 25 unforced errors.

Azarenka set to return to Top 50

When No. 61 Victoria Azarenka beat defending champion and No. 4 seed Karolina Pliskova by breaking her serve to pull out a three-set victory, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, on Thursday night, it was her first Top 5 win on clay since Rome 2015, when she defeated Caroline Wozniacki. It was also Azarenka’s first time reaching the quarterfinals in consecutive tournaments (Monterrey and Stuttgart) since 2016 (Indian Wells and Miami). Not bad when you consider that three days before she played in Stuttgart, Azarenka was across the globe in Brisbane, Australia, playing both singles and doubles for Belarus in the Fed Cup World Group semifinals.

“Jet lag goes away as if it was a magical court … yeah right!” joked Azarenka following her win over Pliskova. “No, no way, but the desire to play, for sure. …

“It’s my job, I have to go out there and I have to play and I have to compete and do my best. That’s the approach, jet lag or no jet lag.”

The former World No. 1 Azarenka, who is set to return to the WTA Top 50 next week after reaching her third Stuttgart quarterfinals, thought the whole match was “really high quality.“ She said: “There was a lot of winners, a lot of good serves, a lot of aces and a lot of pressure from both sides.

“Third set was a couple of games, that I had to battle a little bit on my serve and she was putting a lot of pressure but I felt that I stayed really focused and I stayed strong and too my chances like really took those opportunities and tried to force her to do better and better on her serve, and she was serving really well. And that last game I was able to find some good returns and put pressure.”

On Friday night, Azarenka faced 15th-ranked and No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia with a semifinal berth against World No. 1 Naomi Osaka at stake to the winner. In an unfortunate end to a quality quarterfinal, Kontaveit advanced to the stage of the final four with a win after Azarenka retired with a right shoulder ailment. Kontaveit led 5-7, 7-5, 3-0, after two hours and nine minutes of play.

Friday’s results

Singles quarterfinals
No. 3 Petra Kvitova d. No. 7 Anastasija Sevastova 2-6, 6-2, 6-3
No. 1 Naomi Osaka vs. Donna Vekic, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (4)
No. 6 Kiki Bertens d. No. 5 Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 6-4
No. 8 Anett Kontaveit d. Victoria Azarenka 5-7, 7-5, 3-0 ret.

Doubles quarterfinals
Anna Blinkova/Oksana Kalashnikova d. Darija Jurak/Raluca Olaru, 3-6, 6-2, 10-8
WC-Mona Barthel/Anna-Lena Friedsam d. Mandy Minella/Andrea Petkovic, 6-3, 3-6, 10-6

Saturday’s order of play

Centre Court / 1 p.m.
Anna Blinkova/Oksana Kalashnikova vs. WC-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Lucie Safarova.
Not before 3:30 p.m.
No. 3 Petra Kvitova vs. No. 6 Kiki Bertens.
Not before 6:30 p.m.
No. 1 Naomi Osaka vs. No. 8 Anett Kontaveit
WC-Mona Barthel/Anna-Lena Friedsam vs. Gabriela Dabrowski/Jelena Ostapenko.