In the first of the WTA semifinals in Cincinnati, world #8 Petra Kvitova takes on the in-form Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands for a place in the final in Ohio. Kvitova has struggled over the past few months, with early losses at Roland Garros and Wimbledon surely particularly frustrating. But her season has nonetheless been an impressive one. But equally excellent has been Bertens, who is enjoying surely the best year of her professional career. Who will come out on top?
This will be the fourth meeting overall between Kvitova and Bertens, and the third this year. Their first clash came three years ago at Wimbledon where Kvitova ran out a dominant 6-1 6-0 winner in the first round. When their rivalry was renewed in May in the final in Madrid, it was a rather closer affair. But it was again Kvitova who came out on top, winning 7-6 4-6 6-3. But Bertens had her revenge last week in the third round in Montreal where she brushed Kvitova aside 6-3 6-2.
Path to the semifinals
Kvitova’s tournament began, after a first-round bye, with a difficult assignment against the legendary Serena Williams. It proved a contest worthy of its combatants, but it was Kvitova who emerged the victor, 6-3 2-6 6-3. That set up a clash with former world #10 Kristina Mladenovic, who she dispatched with ease 6-4 6-2. But she had to battle in the last eight, eventually outlasting Belgium’s Elise Mertens 7-5 5-7 6-3, with Mertens rather running out of steam in the decider.
Bertens, just outside the seedings, opened her campaign with a 6-0 6-2 destruction of 2017 US Open semifinalist Coco Vandeweghe who has endured a difficult year. She then reached the third round when world #2 Caroline Wozniacki retired after losing the first set. Bertens then conquered Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in three, 6-3 2-6 6-3, to reach her third straight quarterfinal. There she overcame fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-4 6-3.
How do they match up?
Kvitova is at her best when she is hitting freely, relying on the considerable power she can throw behind her groundstrokes to drive opponents off the court. Her forehand is her biggest weapon, and it is that shot that Bertens will have to work hardest to negate. But Kvitova has the quality to hurt opponents with her backhand as well, whilst her serve also represents a dangerous weapon. She is not, however, the most mobile of players.
In Montreal, Bertens was able to have success against Kvitova by returning aggressively and maintaining excellent depth throughout, making it difficult for Kvitova to impose herself. She was also aided by a few moments of pure magic, with one sliced passing shot in the ninth game of the first set particularly noteworthy. That, combined with ruthlessness when presented with chances to hurt Kvitova, enabled her to claim a fairly dominant win over the Czech.
In Montreal, Bertens played almost the perfect match. Her defence was excellent throughout and when she went on the attack she did so with a clarity and purpose she has not always possessed. She played so well that Kvitova never really had a chance to get involved in the match. But to repeat that performance just a week later is asking a great deal, especially after she played so well against Svitolina. Expect Bertens’ level to drop a little and for Kvitova to be the beneficiary in a three-set win.