By Ros Satar, in Stuttgart
- Petra Kvitova  def. Monica Niculescu 2-6 7-6(5) 6-2
- Almost two and three-quarter hours and saved three match points
- One of the best matches of the tournament so far
STUTTGART, GERMANY – Fifth seed Petra Kvitova saved three match points to end Monica Niculescu’s run in Stuttgart, booking her place in the quarter-finals for the first time since 2013.
After roaring through her opening match, it was a very different story in an match that oozed unpredictability from every angle. From a 54.5 min opening match without giving her opponent a single game to a 2 hour 42 minute epic, Kvitova is nothing if not different extremes of the match-play clock.
After her opening win, Niculescu talked to a small group of the press, grinning and noting that Kvitova had ‘double-bagelled’ Louisa Chirico and said she would be happy with one game, laughing as she corrected herself with ‘first game’. With a great demeanour and a thousand mile an hour delivery, Niculescu confounded and befuddled the fifth seed in their match. Not just one game, let’s try the first set on for size, as Kvitova threw every conceivable option she could think of to get on level terms.
Perhaps it was inevitable that Niculescu might dip a little, letting out a squeal of frustration as the Czech finally brought up her first break point opportunity in the second set, denying her a chance for a consolidation. The battle was on, with a couple of very hard fought games, with Kvitova finally making some headway breaking for a second time for the advantage, and although she failed to capitalise on her first set point, she opened the door for Niculescu to get back on level terms.
More than that, the Romanian put a perplexed Czech under pressure, albeit squandering three match points having saved three break points of her own before Kvitova (somehow!) dragged the set into a tie-break, going on to level the match.
Tired legs and tired shots maybe told it’s story as Niculescu seemed to lack bite on that slice, and Kvitova held on to her opening break advantage, before breaking to love at the end, serving out for the match.
After the match, Kvitova said: “I [was thinking] too much, I was really trying to play too perfectly and I was really trying from the first just going for it and it wasn’t really paying off. I missed a lot and I lot I know that she can’t miss. So, it was really quick the first set and I was just trying to calm down a little bit and play like more consistently through the match.
“I knew it will be very difficult, I lost to her in Fed Cup in January or February and I especially knew that on the clay it’s a little bit slow as well and I’m happy that I served well and played a lot of volleys today. I think it was the most volleys I ever played in my life (laughs).”
People call the women’s tour less of a draw than the men’s but I would challenge them to watch Niculescu in peak action – no matter how many times you look at that slice forehand, it never goes to the same place twice, it never does the same thing twice.
She spoke to the press about how her unique style had come about, and to be honest if she was winning as a junior, what was the point of changing it. Now the focus has to be on staying consistent to get the results at the top of the game.
She said, after her loss: “I am very disappointed. It was a tough one. I would like to take the positive things but it’s not easy having again match point. I played good. I think I’m closer to have a better ranking and I have to stay positive and keep fighting. Unfortunately today I had no luck. I think I played very well the match points but she hit a let and then I hit a great drop shot, she made an unbelievable drop shot back. I mean, come on!
“You have to have a bit of luck. I’m happy about my performance. I think I’m getting closer to play these matches with these players. I think it’s very good but I’m missing something
“I think to learn from these matches, you learn. Maybe, I was thinking too much. But to be honest I also had with [Andrea] Petkovic [at Fed Cup] two match points and this time I said, okay, I’m going to play different and I played and it didn’t work. So, I don’t know what to say. But from experience, it’s going to bet better. I’m going to lose maybe more matches like this, I’m sure. But I think I can be better.”
Next up for Kvitova is Garbine Muguruza – a completely different prospect on clay. The Spaniard has been very confident about her game and her abilities since she arrived in Stuttgart.
Kvitova said: “Probably the venue suits her game. She’s serving well indoor, playing really fast, same as me. So, I think it’s going to be same styles. We’ll see. It’s always a good challenge to play one of the best.”
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