Petra Kvitova out of Roland Garros

PARIS – Petra Kvitova, whose comeback from a knife attack here at Roland Garros two years ago was one of the feel-good stories of the 2017 edition, announced Monday that she’s out of this year’s edition.

There had been tightness in her left forearm before arriving in Paris to prepare. But the 29-year-old felt a sharp pain after hitting a forehand in practice Sunday. 

She immediately stopped the practice. She said that “tears came to her eyes.”

An ultrasound revealed nothing. But an MRI performed later in the day showed a tear in the forearm. And she was forced to withdraw.

Kvitova was the No. 6 seed, due to play Sorana Cirstea on Court Suzanne Lenglen later today. She’ll be replaced by lucky loser Kaja Juvan, an 18-year-old from Slovenia.

Kvitova said that her doctor back in the Czech Republic concurred with the tournament doctor, in that she would do more damage to it by playing and then could be out as long as six weeks.

As it is, she said the prognosis was 2-3 weeks to heal it. And so she’s hopeful that the grass season won’t be compromised.

WTA Rankings Report – April 29, 2019

The tale of two Petras wound its way from Stuttgart to Istanbul, both comeback stories heartwarming – and full of confetti.

In Stuttgart, a 6-3, 7-6 win over No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit helped Petra Kvitova moved back up to her best career ranking of No. 2. More intriguing, she’s just 136 points behind Naomi Osaka for that achingly elusive No. 1 spot.

There have been so many periods in Kvitova’s career when she has been the best player in the world. But she’s never quite gotten there. Oh, she must smell it now.

In Istanbul, in a radically different atmosphere without the same fan support or excitement, Croatia’s Petra Martic went about her own business.

Seeded No. 6, Martic overcame a quick first-set loss to prevail over unseeded Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic 1-6, 6-4, 6-1.

Along the way, she played the longest match of the year so far in defeating Kristina Mladenovic in the quarterfinals.

The 28-year-old moves up four spots to No. 36.  It’s close to her career best. But that’s not the story. The story is that she won the first WTA Tour title of her career. Finally.

In March 2017, Martic was No. 655 in the world, just back after missing 10 months with the back. And it’s been a long, slow climb back.

From here, the future is looking bright.

ON THE UPSWING

Angelique Kerber (GER): No. 5 ============> No. 4 (It wasn’t a great Stuttgart for Kerber, who won a match and lost in straight sets to No. 6 seed Kiki Bertens. But she moves up a spot).

Petra Martic (CRO): No. 40 ============> No. 36 (A first-time WTA Tour title winner at 28, Martic fails to prolong that remarkable “different winner every week” streak on the WTA because of Kvitova’s win in Stuttgart).

Barbora Strycova (CZE): No. 47 ============> No. 39 (Strycova reached the singles semis – losing to doubles partner Vondrousova).

Marketa Vondrousova (CZE): No. 46============> No. 30 (The 19-year-old is at a career-high No. 40 after reaching the Stuttgart final. And she’s one of the only players who showed no spillover effects from playing last weekend in Fed Cup).

Victoria Azarenka (BLR): No. 61 ============> No. 50 (A fabulous breakthrough win in a comeback over No. 4 Karolina Pliskova in the second round seemed like something that could propel the Belarussian through the clay season. But Azarenka, who seemed on her way to another comeback against No. 8 seed Anett Kontaveit the next day, had to retire down 0-3 in the third set with a right shoulder injury. At least she’s back in the top 50, after dropping out of the top 60 for a few weeks).

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Margarita Gasparyan (RUS): No. 72 ============> No. 65 (The 24-year-old began the season at No. 91 and has made steady progress. But after reaching the semis in Istanbul and coming back from a 1-6 first set to upset No. 2 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu, she had to retire with dizziness).

Andrea Petkovic (GER): No. 71 ============> No. 66 (Petko keeps on trucking in the 60s range. She’s been hovering there since after last year’s US Open. And while it’s nowhere near the No. 9 she reached back in 2011, it’s a whole lot better than where she had been for a year or two before that).

Madison Brengle (USA): No. 95 ============> No. 87 (Brengle reached the final at the $80,000 ITF event in Charlottesville on Sunday, losing to teenager Whitney Osuigwe).

Mandy Minella (LUX): No. 108 ============> No. 100 (Minella’s been hovering right around that No. 100 mark since last November, after being as low as No. 336 in June, 2018 following pregnancy and brief maternity leave. It’s a big number in terms of making Slams and all the guaranteed income that brings. And while she’s been on the bubble for the last few, she’s pretty close to making the French Open directly.

Elena Rybakina (UKR): No. 161 ============> No. 134 (There is almost no information about the 19-year-old from Ukraine on the WTA website. But she’s rising. Rybakina, part of a number of women from Ukraine who are doing well of late, was No. 425 at the end of 2017).

Whitney Osuigwe (USA): No. 189 ============> No. 139 (The former junior standout is having a quiet, but steady rise in the pros. She’s at a career high after beating Brengle in Charlottesville. And she’s looking good in the sweepstakes for the USTA’s reciprocal French Open wild card. Just turned 17, Osuigwe has two years of junior eligibility left, but had little left to prove there. At the beginning of 2017, she was outside the top 1000).

Belgian couple both play Luxembourg

Greet Minnen (BEL): No. 192 ============> No. 154 (One of the rare players on the WTA Tour who is out and proud – and whose partner, fellow Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck, is right around the top 50, Minnen’s first taste of the WTA level came when she partnered up with Uytvanck on court in doubles. But she’s doing things on her own in singles now. Minnen, 23, is at a career high after qualifying in Stuttgart. She upset Dominika Cibulkova in the first round before losing to the eventual champion, Kvitova).

ON THE DOWNSWING

Simona Halep (ROU): No. 2 ============> No. 3 (Halep had a shot at getting the No. 1 spot back in Stuttgart. But after a draining Fed Cup weekend, she pulled out with a hip issue. The Miami finalist has a Madrid quarter, a Rome final – and a French Open title to defend this spring. So best to make sure that hip is feeling fine).

ranking
Basically …

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT): No. 29 ============> No. 31 (The so-so season continues for the 2017 French Open champion, who drops out of the top 30. She’s won back-to-back matches just ONCE this year on Tour. And even that one was a squeaker as she got past the returning Shelby Rogers in her Charleston hometown event, after Rogers seemingly had the match in hand. The 6-0 final set in the first round in Stuttgart against countrywoman Anastasija Sevastova was a bit of a mirror into her season so far.

Maria Sakkari (GRE): No. 43 ============> No. 51 (It’s sort of plateau city for the appealing Greek player, who’s going to have to find a way to improve one of her weapons to take the next step most expect her to).

Pauline Parmentier (FRA): No. 52 ============> No. 69 (Parmentier won Istanbul last year, and lost in the second round this year. So her ranking took a hit. Still, it was almost understandable after the high of beating Romania in Davis Cup the previous weekend).

Irina-Camelia Begu (ROU): No. 83 ============> No. 96 (Begu’s early season included back-to-back losses to teenager Bianca Andreescu at Indian Wells and Miami. She even was beaten by Sara Errani – whose service yips have been well documented here, in Guadalajara. She’s not been outside the top 100 since exactly this time of the year in 2014).

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS): No. 98============> No. 109 (Finally back, Kuznetsova is safely into the French Open. Now she’s got to work on her ranking, which she has begun to do this week with a wild card into Prague. She didn’t get a great draw; she’ll face No. 4 seed Buzarnescu in the first round).

Danka Kovinic (MNE): No. 160 ============> No. 183 (A rare Montenegran on the WTA Tour, Kovinic seemed to be coming a few years ago, when she broke into the top 50 in 2016, at age 21. But it’s been a struggle).

ranking
Vandeweghe has fallen well out of the top 200 as a persistent foot injury keeps her off the courts. It’s her lowest ranking in nearly nine years, although she’ll have a protected number when she does come back.

Coco Vandeweghe (USA): No. 116 ============> No. 247 (Whither art thou, Coco? The 27-year-old American, who was in the top 10 in singles at the end of 2017 and still is No. 22 in doubles, sees her ranking take a massive hit this week. A persistent foot injury is the culprit. She was making noises about hoping to back for Indian Wells. But that came and went. And as of two weeks ago, she traveled to New York to have another shot in the foot, then continue rehab. It was just a year ago in Stuttgart, on clay, that Vandeweghe defeated Sloane Stephens, Simona Halep and Caroline Garcia to reach the final. It must feel like a lifetime ago).

Sara Errani (ITA): No. 207 ============> No. 229 (The serving update goes like this: Errani defeated French wild card Fiona Codina in the first round of the Rabat qualifying, 6-1, 6-2. She had 10 double faults, but won nine of the 12 second-serve points when she did get her second-serve in. The next day, against another French Fiona – Ferro, a better one, the No. 1 seed in qualifying –  she won the first set before going down 1-6, 6-3, 6-4. Errani had just three double faults – one in the first set, two in the second. And she served at an 85 per cent rate in both the first and third sets. Whether that’s a positive sign of things to come, we’ll have to wait and see).

In a battle of favorites, Osaka prevails in Oz Open final

MELBOURNE, Australia – Other than the reality that there would, literally, be a loser in this Australian Open women’s singles final, there were no losers.

For fans of women’s tennis – of tennis – there was massive appeal in either new champion.

And the fact that this new champion would also become the new world No. 1 just added to the stakes.

For Petra Kvitova, just getting back to a major final for the first time in nearly five years was a win, given what she’d been though.

For Naomi Osaka, just 21 and already under such tremendous pressure on and off the court, it was an opportunity to win a second straight Grand Slam title. And this time, it would come without all of the collateral baggage of that infamous US Open finale.

In the end, after a few dramatic twists and turns, it was the Japanese star who closed out a 7-6 (2), 5-7, 6-4 victory that sealed both her second major, and the top spot in the rankings on Monday.

Osaka will have done it by winning just three tournaments. But they are three big ones: Indian Wells last March, the US Open, and now, the Australian Open.

Imperial Djokovic wins 7th Australian Open

Flinching at the finish line

She was as poised as you could ask for – for most of the first two sets.

Until she had to win that final point.

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Osaka after her victory, as she tried to take it all in.

And then, Osaka stuttered.

She had love-40 – three match points, on Kvitova’s serve at 3-5 in the second set. And she couldn’t win one of them although, as she said later, those opportunities came on her opponent’s serve.

The Czech lefty, who had sprayed too many balls for the first set and a half, tied down her sails, got her legs moving again and shut off the freebie pipeline just as Osaka began feeling it.

You could see Osaka’s level of agitation rise with every miss.

The next thing you know, Kvitova had won four consecutive games and the second set, and sent Osaka to the ladies’ room to reset.

Tears in her eyes, she left the court with her towel over her head. It was almost as if she was making sure she kept all those negative thoughts contained, took them off the court with her, and dumped them in the loo.

“I was thinking that if I turn it around, probably it’s on my side. In the end, it wasn’t … I think that for her, she came back and played better game. I don’t know. She left. She went (to) the toilet. I was before there as well. There is nothing really special,” said Kvitova, who even in her disappointment could laugh. “Yeah, maybe she calmed down a bit.”

Kvitova extricated herself from another love-40 situation down 2-4 in the third set. But she could never recuperate an early break.

And this time, Osaka closed it out.

“In the third set of the match today, I literally tied to turn off all my feelings. So that’s why I wasn’t yelling as much in the third set,” Osaka said. “I felt like I was a robot, kind of hollow in a way, and was just executing my orders. But when it got towards the end, I started to realize how big the situation was, and I think I started yelling ‘C’mon’ again.”

Tears of disappointment

Osaka
There were a lot of emotions during the trophy presentation.

Even as she slowly walked to the net, and reached over to give Osaka a hug, you could see the tears in Kvitova’s huge blue eyes.

There was no point in even hiding the disappointment.

She had come so close. She had fought so hard throughout the Australian summer. And she fell just short.

As she spoke, with her friend Li Na nearby to hand the Daphne Akhurst Trophy to her opponent, her voice wavered.

She addressed her team, and the crowd responded with a wave of applause.

“Thank you for everything, but mostly, thank you for sticking with me, even we didn’t know if I would able to hold the racket again,” she said. “You were there every single day supporting me, and staying positive for me, which I really needed.”

Later, Kvitova said she it might take awhile to get over this one.

“When I look back, I did have my chances in the first set  … Did have few break points. I don’t think I played something really badly, but I just think I should maybe go a little bit more aggressive one or two rallies.,” Kvitova said. “I really fight back in the second set. I’m proud of myself in that case. And, yeah, the third set was just one break. That’s how the tennis is. It’s the final.”

For Osaka, a big blur

Osaka

Osaka’s reaction after the victory was to get to her chair, lean over, and put her pink adidas visor over her face.

Meanwhile, in her very full supporters’ box, a lot of very happy, incidental people were jumping up and down and hugging each other. Osaka had no family members in the box; no one who has been on this journey with her from the get-go.

Her coach of a little over a year, Sascha Bajin, and trainer were there. But Osaka is a corporation now, and it was very much a corporate box.

“I don’t know. I thought the match was still going on, and I felt like I was in a state of shock during the whole trophy presentation,” she said later during a television interview with new host broadcaster Channel 9.

“Of course  I felt very disappointed and sad when I had those three match points. I tried to tell myself there’s nothing I can do about it, but you always have these doubts,” she added. “I told myself it’s a final.  I’m playing against Petra and she’s a great champion.  I can’t let myself act … immature in a way? I’m grateful to be here, so I had to act that way.”

A question about the Summer Olympics in Tokyo next year, and how she was likely to be the face of it, was me with a “Yikes.”

“Hopefully, for their sake, they don’t do that,” she said.

But with two majors and the No. 1 ranking three months after her 21st birthday, who knows how big she might be in another 18 months?

“It still hasn’t sunk in yet. I’ve just finished playing my match. For me, maybe if I see my sister, I can say, ‘Guess who’s the number one tennis player? Me!’  Maybe then,” she said.

For Kvitova, now 28, it’s back to the No. 2 spot in the rankings. She first reached that penultimate slot – her career high – in Oct., 2011 at age 21. She had won her first major that summer at Wimbledon and then wrapped up the year-end finals that month.

That so-far elusive top spot is very close. She could have grabbed it with a victory Saturday night. Still, she has a lot to look forward to in 2019 after such a strong start. 

Singapore Day 1 is full of surprises

When you get the top eight players in the world this season – well, eight of nine, with the absence of the injured Simona Halep – it’s hard to consider any loss a true upset.

That’s valid even if the winner is seeded lower than the player she defeated. Because in the big picue, they’re all top-10 players.

Still, the opening night at the WTA Tour Finals in Singapore Sunday did produce two … surprises.

First up to open the event, in its last go-round in Singapore, China were No. 4 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic and No. 6 Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.

Two factors were working against Svitolina coming in. The first was that her head-to-head against Kvitova was 1-7. And after Svitolina defeated the Czech in their first career meeting in Cincinnati in 2014, Kvitova has dropped just one set in those seven victories.

The second issue was that second half of the 24-year-old’s season has been a struggle. The Rome champion couldn’t cement her spot in the final eight until the very last minute.

surprises
Kvitova had to feel confident coming into her match with Svitolina. But she wasn’t steady enough. The zing on the serve didn’t seem there, and she had seven double faults in a 6-3, 6-3 defeat.

Svitolina surprises

The stat sheet might have been a bit of a mess, but Svitolina came out at the top end of a 6-3, 6-3 score that gets her tournament off to a great start.

“Winning this match definitely gives me lots of confidence. I want to take this as one to go forward, and for all those people and haters that were saying that I don’t deserve to be here and I’m, you know, not good,” Svitolina told the media in Singapore. “Until the next match, I can really enjoy this win.”

Players don’t often bring up the abuse they get on social media, unless specifically asked about it. But Svitolina brought up the haters.

Her Instagram account is inexplicably full of nastiness on a regular basis. Some might be because she’s struggled to win matches lately, so the gamblers are on her. Some of it is because while she’s not Russian, she’s close by. But it boggles the imagination to think anyone could have that much hate for this charming , hard-working pro.

For Kvitova, who can be brilliant one day and error-prone the next, it was a matter of being more the latter.

 

Calf-strapped Pliskova beats Wozniacki

In the Sunday nightcap, Karolina Pliskova was all over defending Singapore champion Caroline Wozniacki.

The 6-2, 6-4 victory, a score that makes it look closer than it felt, was made more respectable at the end by Wozniacki’s trademark never-quit work ethic.

“Especially against Caroline, you really have to beat her because she’s not gonna give you anything much. Although she was missing pretty much everything in the first set, in the second set she played much better, and I had to really fight for it. I was just happy that I close it,” Pliskova said.

surprises
Pliskova had “The Positive Woman”, Aussie Rennae Stubbs, in her corner in Singapore Sunday.

Pliskova, who had her right leg wrapped from just below the knee down to mid-calf, was as solid as could be.

She saved all 10 break-point chances against her own serve, and converted on 3-of-10 on Wozniacki’s serve.

“I had some break points, and I didn’t make it, and so I was getting a little bit frustrated with myself. I was, like, ‘Maybe that’s the time to call her, the positive woman,’ Pliskova joked about Aussie Rennae Stubbs, who is back in her corner this week and apparently into 2019. “And she was actually positive, as always. She said, ‘Look, you’re still break up,’ which was true, actually. So I didn’t panic and I closed it.”

This was another rivalry that was technically tilted in favour of the runner-up, who was seeded No. 7 to Wozniacki’s No. 2.

Although after Wozniacki took their first three meetings (all in three sets), they’ve been trading the honors back and forth.

After not meeting for three years, the two met six times in 2017, the most recent of which came in the Singapore semifinals a year ago. Wozniacki won that one on her way to the title.

That was the last time they played each other.

More match tough

surprises
Wozniacki got off to a rocky start, and didn’t have enough time to right the ship before Pliskova closed it out.

If there was a connecting thread between Pliskova and Svitolina, it was that because both only qualified a few days ago, they have played plenty of tennis over the last few weeks.

That was not the case for Kvitova and Wozniacki, who wrapped up their spots earlier.

Kvitova last played in Beijing three weeks ago. And she has played just three matches since the US Open. Wozniacki played a full three-tournament Asian swing, and ran through the field without dropping a set to win the Premier Mandatory in Beijing (although she didn’t have to defeat anyone inside the top 20).

But that was more than two weeks ago. And she went home in between.

surprises
Simultaneous coaching consults for Svitolina (Andrew Bettles) and Kvitova (Jiri Vanek) during their Singapore opener Sunday.

Pliskova believes the last-minute play is a net positive even with the rushed arrival and limited time to get over jet lag, or even to practice on these specific courts.

“You always feel better by coming on the court by having a lot of matches in the last few weeks. So I feel like that’s important, but not only with me but I think with everybody. It’s true that when Domi (Cibulkova) won, she was playing until the last moment, (Caroline) Garcia, (Svetlana) Kuznetsova, too,” Pliskova said.

“There is a lot of indoor tournaments the weeks before, so you can really get used to it here, and the matches can really help you to get the confidence back from just playing. Knowing you have to play three matches can help, too.”

Pliskova and Svitolina will meet on Tuesday, preceded by Kvitova and Wozniacki.

The Czech holds a 5-2 head-to-head, going all the way back to 2011. But Svitolina has won the last two.

Svitolina woozy

There reportedly was a scary moment during Svitolina’s press conference, where she had to leave the room for a brief period after suffering what was described as “lightheadedness”.

WTA Tour Finals: an event at a crossroads

(All screenshots from WTAtv).

Contenders Kvitova and Keys make the third round

PARIS – Do you have a pick on the women’s side in this French Open?

The oddsmakers have installed Elina Svitolina as the favorite to win her first French Open – and first Grand Slam title.

She’s followed closely by Simona Halep to win her first French Open – and first Grand Slam title.

Tied for third? 2016 champion Garbiñe Muguruza and … Petra Kvitova.

They’re ahead of former champions Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

American Madison Keys stands at 50-1, after which you can probably draw the line at the possibles.

Kvitova

Wide-open field

With reigning champion Jelena Ostapenko already eliminated, with Williams and Sharapova unknown quantities at this stage, and with Halep and Svitolina untested in terms of holding up the big trophy, why not Kvitova to go deep?

And while we’re at it, why not Keys?

The two rolled to the third round on Thursday with fairly routine wins over Lara Arruabarrena and Caroline Dolehide, respectively.

“I don’t think I have any secret. I just worked pretty hard to get ready physically. Not only for the clay. It’s been already from the offseason. But obviously on the clay it’s a little bit different, and I had a great preparation, as well,” Kvitova said. “I wasn’t injured, so I really could go for it. So far it’s really working well.”

A year ago, Kvitova was just returning to play, making her season debut after rehabbing her left hand after that frightening home invasion.

She didn’t expect much. But she had set it as a return goal and, at least, could get in some big-time match play before her favorite grass season.

A year later, she’s feeling very good.

Back in 2012, Kvitova reached the semifinals in Paris, losing to eventual champion Maria Sharapova. 

Up and down for Keys

The American had good runs at the Australian Open and Charleston. But there have been some gaps in her resumé.

And off the court, she’s not as settled with her team as she could be. 

Keys let day-to-day coach Dieter Kindlmann go a while back, after less than a year. And “super-coach” Lindsay Davenport couldn’t arrive in Paris to fully go through her preparation with her.

As late as Saturday, she was still being helped by USTA head of women’s tennis Ola Malmqvist.

Here are the two “K”s practicing together last Saturday.

“We split up after Madrid, so I did Rome just with fitness trainer and physio, and I had the (USTA) head of women’s tennis, Ola, helping out, because Lindsay couldn’t come until Saturday,” Keys said after her first-round win.

“I’m obviously looking to fill that position, but I didn’t want to rush anything and pick someone just because. I feel like it’s always stable before here, so why not try something different. Who knows? … I enjoy someone who feels confident with what they’re saying. I always enjoy someone who’s very knowledgeable and can relate to me, but is a little more more relaxed and calm.  Uptight just makes me more anxious.”

The American’s best effort in Paris was the fourth round, two years ago. But with the title up for grabs, she’s certainly capable.

The tough work begins

Of the two, Keys’s road is arguably a little tougher.

She’s in the top half of the bottom half – the area Ostapenko and Venus Williams vacated in the first round. But she’s not in that section.

All four seeds in her section – No. 4 Svitolina, No. 31 Mihaela Buzarnescu and, next up for Keys, dangerous No. 21 Naomi Osaka – have made it to the third round.

Whomever gets through that section will, at worst, have No. 26 seed Barbora Strycova as a quarterfinal opponent.

Kvitova

Keys has two wins on big occasions – at Indian Wells and at the US Open – over Osaka. But both came on a hard court.

Kvitova, the No. 8 seed, runs into the in-form No. 25 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia in the third round. And  then perhaps US Open champion Sloane Stephens.

She is 2-0 against Konteveit, having beaten her in three tough sets in Madrid earlier this month.

Looming next for the Czech could be No. 2 Caroline Wozniacki or No. 14 Daria Kasatkina.

Wild card Kvitova takes St. Petersburg

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova hadn’t won a proper match yet in 2018.

Her only victory came when opponent Mirjana Lucic-Baroni retired after the first set of their first-round match in Sydney.

And she lost in the first round of the Australian Open to former top-10 player Andrea Petkovic, who currently is struggling to stay in the top 100.

So as a wild card into the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy tournament, with a tough draw, there was no way to predict Kvitova would be holding the beautiful trophy at the end of the week.

The Czech native finally launched her 2018 season this week, capping it off with a dominant 6-1, 6-2 win over defending champion Kristina Mladenovic in the final on Sunday.

Tough field, easy wins

Kvitova blew through No. 7 seed Elena Vesnina in the first round, dropped a set in defeating Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania in the second round and absolutely rolled over reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals.

Her toughest ask of the week was the semifinal against No. 5 seed Julia Goerges of Germany, who won the Auckland tournament to start the season. Goerges, at age 29, will be in the top 10 for the first time in her career Monday.

Kvitova defeated her 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

She played an aggressive but consistent brand of tennis all week, moving well, moving forward and going about her business with calm and maturity.

“I just went there and tried to show my best, which I’m always trying in finals. I’ve played a difficult opponent today. I knew I really would have to play well, and that’s what I did,” Kvitova said in a tournament interview.

When Kvitova is striking the ball that well, on a faster indoor court in perfect conditions, she is incredibly difficult to beat.

Road back not a straight line

But the Czech is still on the comeback trail after the frightening home invasion just over a year ago that left her needing surgery to repair the tendons on the fingers of her hitting hand. 

Since her surprise return at the French Open, she has had some very good weeks. She also has had a couple of early exits and some really tough draws, which have made it tough to get any momentum.

Kvitova’s second tournament back, on grass in Birmingham, was a triumph. This was her first final, and her first title since then. She also reached the quarterfinals at the US Open, and the semifinals at the Premier 5 event in Wuhan, China where she is a former champion.

PetersburgThe lefthander also faced US Open champion Sloane Stephens twice, in the back-to-back big events in Toronto and Cincinnati this summer, at a time when Sloane Stephens (herself back from a long absence) was mowing down everyone in her path. 

 Those tournaments are big opportunities to get some points to get her WTA Tour ranking back up to where it should be.

But there will be plenty more to come in the short term, with Indian Wells and Miami coming up.

Ranking rising

Kvitova was ranked No. 29 to start the tournament. With the title, she’s already back up to No. 21. And she has nothing to defend the next few months. There are fewer than 1,000 points between the former world No. 2 and the top 10 in the rankings.

There might be some concern with an abdominal muscle, as evidenced by the patch on her stomach, as she heads home to Prague for a Fed Cup first-round tie against Switzerland this week.

The Czech Republic is pretty loaded without her, though; also nominated are Karolina Pliskova, Barbora Strycova and Lucie Safarova.

 

Venus, Stephens fly flag in double QF win

NEW YORK – Venus Williams and Sloane Stephens did their part.

You’re up, Coco Vandeweghe and Madison Keys.

The 37-year-old Williams and the 24-year-old Stephens both survived third-set tiebreak wins by near-identical scores Tuesday at the US Open.

The fact that both advanced to the women’s singles semifinals, and will play each other, guarantees there will be at least one American woman in Saturday’s final.

In the day session, Stephens continued her wondrous month of winning with a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (4) victory over No. 16 seed Anastasija Sevastova. It is a run that has taken her from outside the top 900 in July to just outside the top 30 with her effort here.

She’s already almost all the way back to where she was before a foot injury suffered last summer required surgery in January. 

“A month ago, before I started winning a lot of matches, I was really worried, about my protected ranking, not having enough  tournaments, not being able to play,” Stephens said during her on-court interview. “Once I realized my life is good, I play tennis, I have fun every day, that relieved a lot of stress. I was able to play loose, play my game and – Bam! Semifinals.”

Stephens calm, cool and eager

StephensThe tennis during her win over Sevastova of Latvia wasn’t necessarily the best. But it was very good at times.

And the drama was topnotch as Stephens looked to be running out of energy in the middle of the second set.

But she fought. Calm-looking on the outside, there was nothing of the pre-absence Stephens who sometimes could look as though she wasn’t as invested in the outcome as maybe she should have been.

She was down a break in the third set – very nearly, two breaks. Stephens got that back, and then went down a break again.

The American kept running, even when her legs were probably telling her to stop. She fought as she never used to fight. And she won.

“Yeah, it’s incredible, amazing. Like I said before, if someone would have told me when I started at Wimbledon that I’d be in the semifinals or making, well, three semifinals back-to-back, I would have said they’re crazy. Just happy to be playing really well and happy that my foot is good and I don’t have any pain and my body is holding up,” she said. 

Venus v Kvitova: perseverance personified

Noisy Arthur Ashe Stadium was one-way traffic for Stephens’ match against Sevastova.

For the first night match, Williams had to face off against Petra Kvitova, already a popular player and one whose emotional and near-miraculous comeback from a horrific home invasion has struck a chord with tennis fans.

Still, this is America’s Slam. And Venus, at 37, perhaps has never been more appreciated or revered as she has thrived through some personal trials of her own.

Stephens

The tennis was superb, as it has so often been when these two power players have met before. Both women were on the attack – and both were fighting on defense with everything they had. Most of the points were short, and the velocity was breathtaking.

Up a set but down 0-3 in the second, the roof over Arthur Ashe Stadium was closed because of some expected thunderstorms. All that did was ensure the place would be even noisier by the time the players were deep into the third set.

By the end of it, Williams had several chances to break Kvitova and close it out at 5-6 in the third. She had an open court for her forehand, but she missed it in the net. She had a very makeable return on a second serve, but sent it sailing long.

So the momentum coming into the deciding tiebreaker was not with Williams.

Champion rises at key moment

But like a champion, Williams regained it with the snap of a finger and played an absolutely brilliant decider to win 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2). She lost her visor in the middle of it. No matter. She was called for a foot fault on match point. No matter.

“Our last few matches, I mean, if you can imagine the quality of this match was high, I would say the others were even higher. A lot of times in those matches I just felt a little unlucky. Like she would hit these amazing shots out of nowhere, and all I could do was say, ‘well done’. I never really did anything wrong in those matches,” Williams said. “Sometimes you have opportunities and sometimes you take them and you don’t But it’s not like you get opportunity after opportunity after opportunity in these sorts of matches. You have to take the ones you have. I was happy to have a little more luck today, actually.”

Arthur Ashe Stadium opened 20 years ago, and that was Williams’ first US Open, as a 17-year-old. She made the final, losing to Martina Hingis. Williams won the single title in 2000 and 2001, but hasn’t come close again since making the final in 2002 – 15 years ago. She has reached the semis only twice since then.

Reaching the Australian Open final earlier this year was already quite a feat. Williams has won more matches at Grand Slam tournaments this year than any other player.

But winning in New York, at 37? Off the charts. 

Can she win two more?

“I think she can. I hope so, actually,” Kvitova said, smiling.

“Sport is, you know, a little microcosm of life, and it shows the human spirit, just being out there on the court, fighting against all odds. If you’re down, you keep going. Great champions came back from injuries or circumstances they could never have planned for,” Williams said. “You never know whose life you’ll touch just by being your best.”

Two more Americans Wednesday

Madison Keys and Coco Vandeweghe, the two Americans in the second set of quarterfinals Thursday, will have a tough act to follow after what Williams and Stephens did on Tursday.

StephensBut four Americans in the semifinals?

The younger folks might not remember. But for Williams, when she was coming up in the game, it was situation normal.

Perhaps, if you stick around long enough, everything good comes around again.

“There was a time in tennis, when all my rivals were American. (Jennifer) Capriati and (Lindsay) Davenport and Monica Seles. So I love to see these young Americans coming up playing big,” Williams said during her on-court interview after the match. “I would love to have that again – top four, top five playing in the semifinals.

“That would be huge.”

Kvitova beats Barty in feel-good win

Six months ago this week, Petra Kvitova suffered a terrifying injury after a home invasion in the Czech Republic.

She returned in triumph Sunday.

Kvitova defeated 21-year-old Aussie Ashleigh Barty 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 to win the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, England.

The 27-year-old had surgery that involved the ligaments in all of her fingers of her left (playing) hand. She came back to the Tour somewhat ahead of schedule when she threw her racquet into the ring at the French Open.

Kvitova won her emotional opener against American Julia Boserup in Paris. But she fell to veteran American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round.

The effort was valuable in the sense that it broke the ice for her tournament return.

And with all the media on hand, she was able to get all the questions out of the way.

The reward came in Birmingham Sunday.

 
 

Kvitova defeated lucky loser Tereza Smitkova, Naomi Broady, No. 5 seed Kristina Mladenovic, Czech mate Lucie Safarova (who retired with a thigh injury) and Barty in the final. She dropped a set only against Barty.

 

Kvitova

Said Kvitova on Instagram:

“This victory is for my team and fans to say thank you for being with me in the tough times. We didn’t know if I would play again let alone win a trophy so this is an extra special moment. And it is for all of us to share.

I also wanted to say how much I enjoyed sharing the court with Ash and appreciated her kind words in the ceremony. Birmingham will forever have a special place in my heart. Love to everyone from a very tired Petra ♥️? “

In her press conference after the match, Kvitova said it was kind of a fairy tale (via the WTA website).

“Maybe it will sound weird, but I think it was nice to lose the first set, that I had to fight for the second and for the third. It will give me some extra confidence that I am still able to fight, even if I lose the first set. I know I can still win long matches, so I think that’s important, as well.”

“I was nervous It wasn’t the normal nerves as I had before. It’s my first final after such a long time, and it was a bit difficult to handle. I struggled a lot. It’s nice when you win and you’re playing well, but most of the times the best days are when you win even if you are not playing well. So I’m happy that I was able to win it anyway.”

Congratulations came via Twitter.

Another tourney before Wimbledon?

Kvitova is entered in this week’s final tuneup event in Eastbourne. As the No. 13 seed, she has a bye; she would face Monica Niculescu in the second round. 

Given the still-fragile state of her hand, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see her withdraw. The tournament already has three lucky losers in the draw. hen again, when you recapture that winning feeling again, maybe you want to keep … winning.

For Petra Kvitova, a major victory

ROLAND GARROS – Petra Kvitova practiced at Roland Garros Thursday.

And after what the 27-year-old Czech went through at the hands of a stranger who invaded her apartment last December, this alone was a major victory.

If she gets on court at the French Open for her first-round match, which appears to be the plan, that will be another victory. And then, it will be just about tennis again. Finally.

The 27-year-old Czech was hopeful a month ago that she could make it back from surgery to repair the ligaments in her fingers in time for the French Open. It seemed optimistic at the time, more of a motivational tool to keep her going during all the tough rehab.

But she made it. Whether or not she’ll be in good enough health to win a round, or more, is almost beside the point at this point.

Here are some exclusive Tennis.Life shots from Kvitova’s first practice in Paris Thursday. She practiced with fellow Czech lefty Lucie Safarova, then hit some more with coach Jiri Vanek.

Friday press conference to confirm

Kvitova will have a press conference Friday amid all the top players who will have their media availabilities, after the men’s and women’s singles draws are made at noon. 

From the looks of things on Thursday, it may be all systems go. 

As well-liked as she is, there could well be inappropriate press applause when Kvitova enters the room. Under these exceptional circumstances, it’s unlikely anyone will have any sort of issue with it.

Despite not having played all season in the aftermath of the attack, Kvitova remains ranked No. 14. So she will be seeded. And that will offer her a potentially easier first-round match than might have been the case if she were just floating around the draw.

Ankle issue may keep Halep out of RG

ROLAND GARROS – Genie Bouchard isn’t the only player whose presence at this year’s French Open is in doubt because of an ankle injury.

Simona Halep, the form player coming in after a title in Madrid and a final in Rome, also is a big question mark.

On her Instagram, the Romanian says the doctors tell her she is “50-50” after tearing a ligament in her ankle. Halep took a tumble during the final against Elina Svitolina. Although she kept playing, it was clear she had suffered an injury.

She arrived in Paris early for treatment, as did Bouchard, who turned her ankle during a practice session in Nürnberg. She had to withdraw from the tournament on Monday.

No details on the grade of Halep’s ankle sprain, or what the exact definition of “torn” is. But Halep said there was improvement since Sunday.

Halep

For Bouchard, there reportedly hasn’t been much improvement in the last few days.

Bouchard

Unless things take a turn for the worse, it’s likely both will wait until the last minute to make a final decision. 

Kvitova to announce Friday

Meanwhile, Petra Kvitova will hold a press conference Friday. She will announce whether she will participate in this year’s French Open.

Kvitova had all the ligaments in the fingers of her left hand (her hitting hand) damaged after a terrifying home invasion last December. She had surgery and was optimistic she would be back for Wimbledon. She was hopeful, perhaps on the wishful-thinking side, that she might be able to play in Paris.

The players who are seeded fairly high in the French Open qualifying, who manage to get through their second-round matches, certainly are going to be watching this attentively. There look to be several lucky-loser spots opening up in the main draw in the next few days.