A marvellous week in Madrid will conclude for the women with an unlikely, yet rather fabulous final line-up featuring Petra Kvitova and Svetlana Kuznetsova. Before this tournament, I don’t think many, if any, had Petra or Svetlana on the radar. Kvitova had been out for over a month, taking time away from the tour citing exhaustion. She came back for Fed Cup a few weekends ago and won both her singles rubbers. Her first WTA match back ended in defeat against the rising American, Madison Brengle in Stuttgart. Kuznetsova’s form had been characteristically erratic this year and her first outing on the clay was a straight sets defeat to Shuai Zhang in Prague last week. Kuznetsova had previously won all four matches against Zhang.
Before today’s semi-finals, both Petra and Svetlana had had great weeks in Madrid, but particularly the Russian who had valiantly fought way her through the draw, winning back-to-back-to-back three setters. The pair came into the semi-finals as underdogs but saved their best tennis to inflict noteworthy upsets. Kuznetsova spent just shy of six hours on the court in less than a day, beating Sam Stosur in the early hours of Thursday morning, 5-7 6-2 7-6(5) (2h43) and then overcomnig Lucie Safarova on Thursday afternoon, 5-7 7-6(5) 7-6(3) (3h05). Kuznetsova didn’t show a great deal of fatigue, at least visibly, and was in the zone from the get go as she took out the defending champion, Maria Sharapova, 6-2 6-4.
This was a near perfect performance from Kuznetsova who came out with a pretty beautiful gameplan. She moved Sharapova from the side-to-side on the baseline, dictating her fair share of the rallies. She also tried to draw Sharapova in towards the net where the world number three can be vulnarable. Kuznetsova was aggressive when there was the opportunity to be, but also demonstrated her ability to defend so well on this surface. Kuznetsova is known for being a little fragile mentally but she was all over this match. Kuznetsova won the first set reasonably comfortably, but there were moments in the second set when this could have flipped. Sharapova had a break point at 2-1 in the second set (which was saved) and then after getting broken, saved three break points down 4-2.
The next game had BREAK written all over it but Kuznetsova faced little pressure from Sharapova on return and then served out the match without the customary shakiness. In fact, Kuznetsova was not broken during the entire match which is a pretty awesome stat for the world number 29 considering she was playing someone of Sharapova’s quality. There’s a fair case to be made that one of the reasons Sharapova played so poorly was due to the way that Kuznetsova played this match.
In the second semi-final, Kvitova inflicted a first defeat in 2015 on Serena Williams with a majestic performance to win, 6-2 6-3. This was Petra’s first ever victory over Serena after losing their first five encounters. The key factor was Kvitova’s return; she went to town on Serena’s second serve, maintaining an aggressive stance on this shot. It really paid off as she broke serve on six occasions and Serena won just 29% of points on her second serve. Kvitova was the much sharper player and Serena looked sluggish from the start and never really looked like turning this match around. I’ve said it before in the last year but Kvitova looks really fit at the moment. She was scurrying around the court, getting to balls that you wouldn’t have expected her to reach a few years ago.
We’ve been spoilt for WTA finals in the last month with Charleston and Stuttgart both producing finals that are worthy of ranking in the top ten best matches of 2015 so far. Kvitova leads the head-to-head with Kuznetsova, 3-1 although it was Kuznetsova who won their last encounter on the clay courts of Roland Garros in a tremendous match, 9-7 in the third set. It was one of those matches that seem to be forgotten over the year, perhaps overshadowed by the final between Sharapova and Halep.
Kuznetsova’s defence and general court craft has the ability to drive Kvitova cuckoo, particularly if the Czech player is having one of those off days. However, Petra served and returned extremely well against Serena, which would give her a huge advantage in this match. Also, Petra has a great record in finals, winning eight of her last ten over the past four years. Kvitova also won Madrid back in 2011, beating Victoria Azarenka in the final. I’d fancy a close match but I’d still question if Kuznetsova gets into a winning position, whether she’d have the nerve to close it out and win the title. I’m really looking forward to this match and as always, i’d love to hear your thoughts on who might prevail.
Prediction: Kvitova d. Kuznetsova in 3 sets