Tennis

Cincinnati | Kvitova to meet Garcia in final

Petra Kvitova got things done and dusted, 6-7(6) 6-4 6-3, in her semi-final against Madison Keys before the rains came in Cincinnati, while her opponent in Sunday’s final at the Western & Southern Open, Caroline Garcia, had to persevere in a match twice hit by lengthy delays, before seeing off 6th-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, 6-2 4-6 6-1.

I know when she’s on fire she’s really on fire. I think she is, kind of, an aggressive player like me or Madison [Keys]. She is really serving well, and going for every shot. It will be mentally tough, as well. I will be focusing on the serve and just try to wait for some chance if that comes. Petra Kvitova

While it took Kvitova 2 hours and 18 minutes to find her way past the American, Garcia, the first qualifier to make a WTA 1000 final, had to maintain her focus over some 4 hours, although she limited her time actually on the court to 2 hours and 5 minutes against the Belarusian.

32-year-old Kvitova from the Czech Republic had never advanced to the semi-finals in her 10 appearances at Cincinnati, but she has now made it into the 40th career final.

“That’s nice, to have this experience, even in my age,” a smiling Kvitova said. “In my career, I had many, many finals, but never here.

“It feels different because it’s for the first time in Cincinnati.”

Garcia, ranked 35 in the world and from France, is the surprise finalist despite having reached a career high of 4 in September 2018.

“No one expected it, that’s for sure,” Garcia said. “It’s a long way to come from [qualifiers].

“It’s one match at a time. Try to take the best from every match, and improve through the tournament.”

Garcia has now won more matches than any player on the Hologic WTA Tour since the start of June, with her win over Sabalenka the 26th in that time-frame.

She also bagged 2 titles, in Bad Homburg and Warsaw, and, having battled through qualifying this week, Garcia posted wins over No 4 Maria Sakkari, No 7 Sabalenka, and No 8 Jessica Pegula, as well also routing Elise Mertens in the Round of 16.

Madison Keys has stormed through the draw but could not get past Petra Kvitova in the Cincy Last 4

© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Kvitova, ranked 28 in the world, almost didn’t make it out of the 1st-round, having to save a match point against last year’s finalist, Jil Teichmann, and she also needed 3 sets to beat 5th-ranked Ons Jabeur in the 3rd-round, but the Czech left-hander has grown in stature as she has made her way through the draw, and was impressive against the resurgent Keys.

“It’s like a second chance, that you are almost gone, and now you are still here and playing in the [final],” Kvitova added.

Keys, the 2019 champion in Cincinnati, defeated 3 Grand Slam winners this week, Jelena Ostapenko, Iga Swiatek and Elena Rybakina, but she could not close out Kvitova, who initially struggled to get herself into gear, but produced some of her best tennis when it mattered by breaking the American home favourite to start the third set, and again to clinch a spot in Sunday’s final.

“It was an incredible battle,” Kvitova said in her post-match press conference. “I have to say Madison played a really great match. It was a really, really tight one.

“This is very special, to be honest. I was going to the match today, and I was telling myself that I have never been in the final here.

“I had many, many finals but never here. So finally it’s here. Actually, who knows how it will end tomorrow, but this is already a big step for me.”

It was a battle between two former Top 10 players and power-hitters in which a sluggish start, coupled with10 double-faults, didn’t help the Czech left-hander’s cause, while Keys, ranked 24, got off to the quicker start, and was gifted an early break when Kvitova double-faulted 3 times to get in front, 2-1.

Slowly getting her serve and groundstrokes under control, the Czech broke back to level at 3-3 and the set drifted on to a tiebreak, which Keys claimed 8-6.

In the second set, Kvitova took command, charging ahead 5-2 before struggling to close it out as Keys fought back to 5-4 but, second time round, the Czech did not falter and sent the contest into a decider where she immediately applied pressure, breaking the American with a thundering forehand return to snatch the early break.

Trailing 4-3, Keys carved out 3 break points but was unable to convert any of her chances as Kvitova fought back for the hold, and then sealed her place in the final with another break.

“I expected it to be tough, but I didn’t expect it to be that tough,” said Kvitova, who will return to the Top 20 on Monday. “I don’t really care about the ranking.”

“Being in the final is, of course, more important, that is why I play tennis, to be in the final, and fight for the trophy.”

Kvitova is into her 12th WTA 1000 final, and she is a win away from her 9th WTA 1000 title, with only Serena Williams (13), Victoria Azarenka (10) and Simona Halep (9) having won more since the tier was created in 2009.

Despite the loss on Saturday, Keys posted another stellar showing in Cincinnati this week, including a Round-of-16 victory over top seed Swiatek for her first win over a current World No 1 player, and she also beat reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina in the quarter-finals.

In fact, Keys had 4 more winners and 4 fewer unforced errors than Kvitova on the day, but the Czech was more successful on break points, converting 5 of 12, while the American went 2-for-8.

Caroline Garcia endured 2 lengthy rain delays ahead of beating Aryna Sabalenka to reach her first WTA 1000 final in 5 years

© Dylan Buell/Getty Images

Later, 28-year-old Garcia won her 7th straight match, beating Sabalenka in 3 sets and enduring the two rain stoppages, which totalled 4 hours.

“What a day it has been,” Garcia said. “Last night I was excited to be in the semi-finals.

“Aryna is a difficult opponent, so fast, so strong. We had a lot of very tough rallies and tough weather.

“You never knew when you would be coming back to the court — but we managed it.”

The Frenchwoman took the first set but, following an almost 2½-hour delay, Sabalenka manage to force matters into a third.

The second rain delay came with Garcia leading 3-1 in the decider, and once play resumed, she made quick work of the Belarusian, winning 3 straight games to become the first qualifier to reach the finals in Cincy and her first in 5 years at a WTA 1000 event.

Notching up her third Top 10 win of the week, Garcia overpowered Sabalenka through the first set, striking 13 winners to 3 unforced errors, while converting the 2 break points she earned.

After rain halted play at 1-1 in the second, Sabalenka turned the tide, taking advantage of Garcia’s post-delay let-down, and the Belarusian, who did not sniff a break point in the first set, was able to break the Frenchwoman 3 times.

Garcia took a medical time-out late in the second set to receive treatment and taping on her left forearm, after which she rediscovered her form and timing, breaking Sabalenka for a 3-1 lead in the decider.

After another prolonged rain delay, Garcia held off a break chance and earned an insurance break by drawing a double-fault on break point to lead 5-2, before coolly closing out the match to level her head-to-head against Sabalenka to 2-2.

“First, to be in the final of a 1000 event after so many years, and the scenario of today was just unbelievable,” Garcia said. “We had to stop a few times.

“We never know when we will come back. It was long wait, and in the wait you never know what you are supposed to do, so it was tough.

“I’m very happy with the last preparation for the comeback at 3-1. I was really ready for every point. It made the difference.”

Garcia finished the match with 24 winners to 18 unforced errors, breaking Sabalenka 6 times, while the Belarusian struck 16 winners to 32 miscues, and broke the Frenchwoman 3 times.

Aryna Sabalenka managed to level at a set all but was then outpaced by Caroline Garcia

© Dylan Buell/Getty Images

A foot injury sidelined Garcia in the spring, but she returned at Roland Garros in May and proceeded to win the doubles title with Kristina Mladenovic.

Since then, the former World No 4 has quickly translated her winning ways onto the singles court, and credits her work with new coach Bertrand Perret for her more aggressive, attacking game, while she has also added a full-time travelling physio to her team.

It is Garcia’s serve, though, that has made the big difference on Cincinnati’s low-bouncing fast courts and, going into Saturday’s semi-final, she had been broken just 3 times while, on Saturday, Sabalenka could not find a way through the Frenchwoman’s delivery in the first and final sets.

Now leading the WTA Tour in aces with 241, Garcia dominated the opening set particularly on her serve in which she was 100% on first serve points won.

Awaiting Garcia in the final is Kvitova against whom she trails 3-5 in their head-to-head record.

The Czech missed a chunk of the Tour after an intruder broke into her apartment and she was badly hurt when she was stabbed in her racket hand while trying to defend herself, resulting in surgery.

“It’s nothing comparable to what Petra has been through,” Garcia said of her battles with injury. “She’s a champion on and off the court.

“She never complains about anything. She’s always very respectful to everyone, working for the tournament, on tour with other players.”

As for Kvitova, she said of Garcia: “I know when she’s on fire she’s really on fire.

“I think she is, kind of, an aggressive player like me or Madison [Keys]. She is really serving well, and going for every shot.

“It will be mentally tough, as well. I will be focusing on the serve and just try to wait for some chance if that comes.”

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