Generally speaking, when a person is under stress, she regresses to former, undesirable behaviors. Petra Kvitova, in her semifinal match against Kaia Kanepi, was under a great deal of stress, running a step--or many steps--behind her opponent throughout the match. To make things worse, Kvitova's prior behaviors included a lot of wild hitting, executed by a player who was not willing to slow down, be more precise, and ultimately turn less into more.
But that regression never occurred. Oh, perhaps on a point here and there, and there was an almost chronic serving problem--but, in general, Kvitova did not go to pieces and revert to her hit-or-miss style of play. Instead, she fought. She fought ad points, she fought match points--five of them--and she fought most fiercely when she was down 0-4 in the third set.
There was a lot of big news at Wimbledon today. Five-time champion Venus Williams went out in straight sets. Vera Zvonareva finally beat Kim Clijsters. That was the news. But the story of the day, at least for me, was that Petra Kivitova had nerves of steel almost every moment, even though, over and over, she appeared to be losing the match.
Kanepi got one break in the first set, and won it 6-4. The second set became even more competitive, with Kanepi serving well consistently and both women hitting well. There were no opportunities to break, so the set went to a tiebreak. At 6-5, Kanepi had a match point, but Kvitova saved it. Kanepi had another match point at 7-6, and a third one at 8-7, and those disappeared, too. At this point, given Kanepi's frustration, it wasn't much of a stretch to believe that Kvitova would take the set--and she did just that, winning the tiebreak 10-8.
Whatever negativity Kanepi experienced during the tiebreak, she shook it off, and immediately went up 2-0 in the third set. Then she went up 3-0, and then 4-0. The end seemed quite near, but if you looked at Kvitova's face and body language, you sensed that--for her--the end might not be so near, after all. Maybe she was thinking about the fact that qualifier Kanepi was playing the third set of her eighth match. Or maybe--after taking out Zheng Jie, Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki--Kvitova just wasn't ready to go home.
Kanepi went up 5-2, served for the match at 5-3, and faced a break point. Technically, Kvitova broke her, but the point had to be replayed. Kvitova was happy to break her again for the sake of the electronic system, and she then held at love. They kept playing, and by this time, Kanepi was making more errors and not serving really big like she had been. Nevertheless, at 5-6, Kvitova double-faulted, giving Kanepi her fourth match point. Kvitova saved that match point with a stunning second serve, but then double-faulted again, setting up Kanepi's fifth match point.
Kvitova served out wide to the ad court, saving yet another match point, then hit another really good serve to get to game point. She held, then broke Kanepi at 6-all. At this point, after almost three hours, the end really was near: Kvitova won the third set 8-6.
Kanepi's meltdown was probably more mental than it was physical; she had played a lot of tennis in a short period of time. It was also the end of a great story: A qualifier--seeking to get back to her rightful place in the rankings after suffering injuries and a loss of confidence--almost made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon. But there was more to the story than that meltdown: Kvitova put up the kind of fight that can make tennis almost indescribably exciting. There was hardly a moment when she wasn't fighting to keep up, or fighting to stay in the match. It was a really gutsy performance.
As for Kanepi, getting to the quarterfinals was quite an accomplishment, and it's nice to have her back.