STUTTGART, April 27, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)
At about the same time that Petra Kvitova and Kiki Bertens were taking Centre Court inside Porsche Arena to play their semifinal match at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Saturday afternoon, bigger news was being made elsewhere inside the arena.
That’s because World No. 1 and top seed Naomi Osaka suddenly withdrew from the WTA Premier event in Stuttgart due to an abdominal injury.
Osaka, who on Friday afternoon earned her first WTA clay court semifinal berth with a three-set comeback victory over No. 25 Donna Vekic of Croatia, was scheduled to play No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the second semifinal that was to lead off the Saturday night session. Instead, Kontaveit, who reached her second consecutive Stuttgart semifinal when she won by retirement over Victoria Azarenka of Belarus Friday night, received a walkover victory against the two-time Grand Slam champion from Japan.
On Sunday, Kontaveit will play in her fifth WTA Tour final of her career against the World No. 3 Kvitova.
According to a WTA press release issued Saturday afternoon, Osaka “felt the beginnings of her injury surface” while facing Vekic. Osaka said, “I felt it yesterday at the start of the match. She was asking me in the third set why my serve dropped and it was actually for that reason.
“I wanted to wait to see if I could play. I woke up today and I had to roll out of bed, then I decided I wasn’t able to play.”
Osaka said she “remains confident that there is no long-term damage,” and suggested it’s a problem she’s suffered at other times during her career.
“It’s something I’ve had before. It’s an ab strain. Thankfully because I’ve had it so many times, I’m able to tell what it is and I’m able to know what to do to make it better,” Osaka said, as quoted by the WTA website.
“I have it at least once every year. It takes a few days to not feel it, then I just have to strengthen. It really depends on how bad I tore it. I don’t think it’s that severe, but it’s still a bit concerning.
“Even though it’s bad I got injured here, I’m happy it was the beginning and not Rome, when it’s really close to the French Open.”
— NaomiOsaka大坂なおみ (@Naomi_Osaka_) 27. April 2019
Meanwhile, Kvitova stormed past No. 6 seed Bertens, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-1, in their semifinal match that lasted two hours and one minute. The Czech native and four-time Stuttgart semifinalist won 69 percent (55 of 80) of her service points and broke the seventh-ranked Bertens in four of six opportunities. She outpointed the Dutch No. 1 91-78 en route to her ninth clay-court triumph in her last 10 on the red dirt. It was also Kvitova’s WTA tour-leading 23rd victory this season.
With the semifinal match even at one set each, Kvitova went to work and raised the level of her game. She won five consecutive games, which included back-to-back service breaks, and hit winners from a variety of locations on the court.
Kvitova, who finished with 29 winners, has been very successful in three set matches. Her win on Saturday was her eighth in 12 matches that have gone the distance. The victory moved her up to No. 2 in the live rankings.
.@Petra_Kvitova hammers the gas in the final set to defeat Kiki Bertens 7-6(3), 3-6, 6-1.
— WTA (@WTA) 27. April 2019
“I’m always playing three-setters with Kiki,” said Kvitova during an on-court interview after her win. “I didn’t expect anything easy today. I’m glad I was able to stay in the rallies and return her serve.
“When I broke her serve in the third and then kept my serve from love-40, it was very important. It made a difference. I have to be patient when I play her and wait for a good shot when I can go for a winner.”
Coming into their semifinal match, Kvitova and Bertens had split their four previous meetings. While Kvitova won the first two – on grass at Wimbledon in 2015 and on clay in the 2018 Mutua Madrid Open – Bertens had prevailed in their two most recent head-to-heads. Both took place last year at Montréal and Cincinnati, on hard courts.
After beating two-time Stuttgart champion Angelique Kerber of Germany on Friday night, Bertens said of her encounter with Kvitova, “It’s going to be a tough match. I think Petra is having a really good year so far, playing some great tennis. So, it’s going to be a really tough battle but I’m looking forward to it and hopefully I can play the same game as I played today.”
• Coming into this week, a total of 18 different players have won the 18 WTA singles titles that have been contested. Of the finalists, Petra Kvitova, who won earlier at Sydney, is chasing after her second 2019 title. Anett Kontaveit has not won a title this season.
• On Sunday, Petra Kvitova will be looking to lift her 27th career trophy when she faces Anett Kontaveit. After winning Sydney to start her season, she reached the finals at the Australian Open (losing to Naomi Osaka) and Dubai (losing to Belinda Bencic). Kontaveit, who is appearing in her first final of the season, has played in eight tournaments overall. Although Kvitova leads the head-to-head 3-2, Kontaveit won their most recent match earlier this year, 7-5, 7-6 (1), in the round of 16 at Brisbane.
• After advancing to the Stuttgart semifinals for the second straight year, Anett Kontaveit told the WTA website, “Of course, it feels great to be back in the semifinals.” She led Victoria Azarenka 3-0 in the third set of their quarterfinal when Azarenka was unable to continue due to a right shoulder ailment. “Not the way I wanted to win in the end but I thought it was quite a high level match. I was quite lucky to get through the second set somehow,” said Kontaveit.
• By winning her first match at Stuttgart on Thursday, Naomi Osaka guaranteed herself of retaining the World No.1 ranking for a 14th consecutive week when the WTA Rankings are updated on Monday. She rose to No. 1 after beating Petra Kvitova in the Australian Open final in January.
• With five service aces in her semifinal match on Saturday afternoon, Kiki Bertens moved into a tie with Karolina Pliskova for most aces on the WTA Tour. Each has 192. Petra Kvitova is third with 136. Pliskova is averaging 7.7 aces per match through 25 matches while Bertens is averaging 7.1 aces per match in 27 matches.
What they’re saying
World No. 1 Naomi Osaka, on reaching her first clay-court semifinal (before withdrawing on Saturday because of an abdominal injury), as quoted by the WTA website: “I spent a really long time after Miami just training on clay, trying to get comfortable with it. And I’m really happy that that paid off. I think every day I’m improving which is really good to see. So, hopefully by the time French comes I’m a decent clay court player.”
No. 3 Petra Kvitova d. No. 6 Kiki Bertens, 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-1
No. 8 Anett Kontaveit d. No. 1 Naomi Osaka, walkover
WC-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Lucie Safarova d. Anna Blinkova-Oksana Kalashnikova, 6-4, 7-5
WC-Mona Barthel/Anna-Lena Friedsam d. Gabriela Dabrowski/Jelena Ostapenko, 4-6, 6-2, 11-9
Sunday’s order of play
Centre Court / 1:30 p.m.
WC-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova/Lucie Safarova vs. WC-Mona Barthel/Anna-Lena Friedsam
Not before 4 p.m.
No. 8 Anett Kontaveit vs. No. 3 Petra Kvitova