All in for this one… the first of the Stuttgart semi-finals at 1.30pm local time will be contested between the number two seed and defending champion, Angelique Kerber and the number five seed, Petra Kvitova.
In the first match of the day, Angelique Kerber produced another winner-laden performance to defeat Carla Suárez Navarro in straight sets, 6-2 6-4. Kerber has hit a combined 81 (!) winners in her first two matches; the only blip in an otherwise complete quarter-final performance was being unable to serve out the match at 6-2 *5-3. Suárez Navarro earnt her first break of the match, but Kerber refocused to break straight back and secure the straight sets victory in 72 minutes.
On the whole, Kerber produced a terrific display. She served exceptionally well, particularly in the first set with 80% first serves and dropping just four points behind it. The German player hit with great depth and was the one looking to be more aggressive on a consistent basis, going for those shots down-the-line. Suárez Navarro produced a solid display but didn’t have that spark; I think the Spaniard is going to have another superb clay court season but on this occasion, Kerber was too good and marches into her third consecutive WTA semi-final.
Kvitova was on the brink against Monica Niculescu on Thursday, but is now into the semi-finals of Stuttgart after a powerful display, defeating Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarter-finals with an eye-opening scoreline 6-1 3-6 6-0. Serving is key on this surface and it was Kvitova who ruled in that department in the first set, getting 73% of first serves in (compared to Muguruza’s 55%) and going to town on the Spaniard’s second serve. Kvitova took it, 6-1, with some characteristically huge striking that more often than not, found the court.
Muguruza earnt a valuable hold to lead 2-1 in the second set, staving off a break point, and then was let off the hook to go up 3-2 with Kvitova producing some sloppy misses. Muguruza then seized on her moment, breaking to love, and holding onto to her serve from there on to take the second set, 6-3. The first serve percentages swung around (Muguruza 72% to Kvitova’s 59%) and therefore, this helped the Spaniard to impose herself more in the rallies.
The first serve percentages were pretty even in the third set but it was Kvitova who tore it up. Muguruza had *40-0 in her first service game of the match but missed a volley at *40-30 and went onto lose her serve… that was pretty much the turning point. Kvitova was dominant on serve but most important of all, she was so aggressive on return, getting the ball at Muguruza’s feet with brilliant depth on so many occasions. This was an excellent performance from Kvitova, who moves into her first semi-final of 2016.
Head-to-head record: Kvitova leads Kerber in their head-to-head, 4-3. Kerber won their last match at the WTA Finals in Singapore last year, 6-2 7-6(4). Their first ever match actually came in Stuttgart in 2012. I remember being SO excited for that match-up because it was when Kerber was so high on confidence in the year that she first broke into the top ten and Kvitova was almost at the peak of her game, ranked at number three in the world. On that occasion, Kvitova won, 6-4 6-4.
The pair are 1-1 on clay as Kerber turned the tables in Rome that year to win a lopsided three setter, 7-6(2) 1-6 6-1. It is worth noting though that Kvitova was suffering with an abdominal injury in that match.
Final thoughts: Phwoo this should be fun… this is one of my favourite match-ups on the WTA tour and it’s a shame we have only seen it twice in the last two and a half years. This will be a big match for Kerber, and a fascinating one too, if Kvitova maintains a high level from her match against Muguruza. The German player has looked to be more aggressive this year. Her game is still built on the consistency from the baseline but there’s been a noticeable tactical change to take a few risks, be a bit more aggressive with her groundstrokes and go for those down-the-line plays.
I’m completely on the fence… If Kvitova can maintain the kind of form she produced against Muguruza then I think she will be too strong, particularly on this surface, which does favour the big server. However, there’s never a certainty with Kvitova from match-to-match although once she’s tuned in, she often delivers at the business end of tournaments. Anything below-par or even average from Kvitova and Kerber, who will have the home crowd support, will most likely sweep up. I’m more inclined to go for Kvitova but just looking forward to this one!