An all-Czech affair will open up singles action at the WTA Finals in Singapore on day 4 as Lucie Safarova and Petra Kvitova aim to keep their chances of qualifying for the semi-finals alive. Both players face an uphill struggle having lost their opening matches in straight sets.
Safarova made her comeback from a bacterial infection and an abdominal tear in Linz two weeks ago and has been steadily improving match-by-match. However, it wasn’t enough in her first ever match in the WTA Finals, falling in straight sets to Garbine Muguruza, 6-3 7-6(4) in a brutal baseline battle. Safarova gave a really decent account of herself, perhaps better than to be expected after losing her first matches in Linz (l. to Mitu, 6-3 6-4) and Moscow (l. to Pavlyuchenkova, 6-1 6-7 6-3). Safarova struggled to adjust to the brute force and depth of Muguruza’s groundstrokes early on. Safarova was pretty mega at saving break points, but couldn’t get a look in on Muguruza’s serve.
The Czech player started the second set with much more vigour, managing to dictate rallies with her forehand and serving more effectively. Both players had their opportunities later in the second set after Safarova had an early break. Safarova shone again when her back was against the wall, saving four break points at *3-4 and digging out of a *0-40 hole. Safarova is one of the best players at saving break points and while she still shows mental frailties, the improvements she has made over the past couple of years have been remarkable. Holding at *4-5 and *5-6 with scoreboard pressure is textbook now for Lucie, but she didn’t quite have enough to trouble Muguruza in the second set tiebreak.
Kvitova suffered her first defeat to Angelique Kerber since 2012, losing out in straight sets, 6-2 7-6(3). Kerber was just too good in the first set with Kvitova giving away the last two games with a flurry of errors. The former Wimbledon champion had her best spell of the match at the start of the second set where she managed two holds and a break of the Kerber serve, which became more vulnerable as the match wore on. Kvitova was more patient in the rallies before finding the killer blow. When Kvitova can put it altogether, Kerber can become a passenger in these match-ups. However, the German player did more than enough to keep Kvitova at bay. Kvitova had two set points at 6-5 40-15* (Kerber had previously served for the match) but two great points from Kerber and then two woeful ones from Kvitova resulted in a second set tiebreak. Kerber was solid whilst Kvitova… wasn’t.
The best moment from the match was when Petra didn’t realise she had lost the first set and was milling around at the back of the court. You could hear the umpire shouting “Petra!”. As she strolled back to her chair, there was a brief glance and smile back to her team.
Kvitova will be feeling more jolly about the prospect of playing Safarova, who she has never lost to in seven previous encounters. After playing each other five times in 2014, this will be just their second encounter in 2015. Earlier this year, Kvitova beat Safarova in the final of New Haven, 6-7(8) 6-2 6-2. Safarova looked to be in a good place after winning that first set, but Kvitova slowly turned it around, serving better, returning better, and just having that touch more explosivity… is that a word? Oh well, i’ve created it if it doesn’t exist. On reflection though, Safarova may have been impeded by the abdominal tear which she stated that she picked up in that final.
While Safarova has been improving and played a pretty high level in the second set against Muguruza, this head-to-head is just rough. Kvitova has not played well since the US Open so if she does throw in a sub-standard performance then perhaps Safarova might have a chance. This is always a tough one as it’s my two favourite players. I’d like to see Lucie bag that elusive win over Petra, but that head-to-head…