Sunday, October 30, 2011

Petra Kvitova wins the WTA Championships

She did it the hard way, but Petra Kvitova won the WTA Championships in Istanbul today, defeating Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. And with all respect for Azarenka, a player I admire, the Czech star should have taken the trophy in straight sets. Because when she isn't the middle of a mental collapse, Kvitova is just scary-good. Everyone talks about her lefty serve and her laser-like groundstrokes, but there are also the beautiful angled drop volleys, the topspin lobs, and the uncomfortable-looking pretzel-like positions from which the lanky Wimbledon champion can somehow manage to hit winners.

The problem is that the mental collapses continue to occur. That was evident today when Kvitova experienced moments when she could hardly find the court. Renee Stubbs, who worked as a commentator during the Championships, remarked that it must be a nightmare to coach Kvitova--she's either perfect, or she looks like she doesn't belong in the top 50.

The Czech star went up 5-0 in the first set, and looked as though she might just run over Azarenka. Azarenka held at 1-5, though, and it was that hold that marked the beginning of Kvitova's first trip to wherever she goes when she becomes unglued. Spewing errors all over the place, she was broken at love when she served for the set. Azarenka then held, and--obviously sensing that all was not well on the other side of the net--proceeded to break Kvitova at love again. The set went to 5-all, and then Kvitova came back to reality just as suddenly as she had vacated it: She brilliantly held for 6-5, then had a look at a couple of set points on Azarenka's serve. On her 5th set point, she won the first set.

At 1-all in the second set, Azarenka broke Kvitova, who broke her right back. Azarenka broke again, then saved a break point on her next serve. Looking calm and steady throughout, she would go on to win the second set 6-4, as Kvitova experienced momentary storms of unforced errors. 

In what seemed like almost no time, though, Kvitova went up 3-0 in the third set. But to conclude that this was going to be a cruise to the last point for the Czech player would be to underestimate her capacity for caving in to pressure. And here is where full credit should go to Azarenka, who never gave up, and who began to play higher percentage tennis to give herself a chance to make a comeback. Kviitova--by now, having saved a number of break points--jumped ahead to 4-2, then 5-2. She had a match point on Azarenka's serve, but Azarenka held. 

Kvitova held two match points on her own serve, and she converted the second one, to win the Championships. This was her sixth title of the year. This year, she won titles on all four surfaces, and these included a major (Wimbledon), a premier event (Madrid) and this week's elite end-of-season playoffs. When the rankings are published tomorrow, Kvitova's name will appear right under Caroline Wozniacki's; she will be the number 2 player in the world. During the trophy ceremony, Kevin Skinner hinted to Wozniacki that the sound she hears behind her are Kvitova's footsteps. 

In the U.S., there was no live broadcast of the singles Championships; ESPN showed them after the fact, with Chris Evert as one of the commentators. I watched them on Tennis TV and enjoyed the insights of Renee Stubbs (except for the chronically sexist language). At one point, while promoting the tour, Kevin Skinner talked about the "Strong is Beautiful" campaign, and how it "balances" athleticism with beauty. And that's my problem with the campaign--it emphasizes the false (but culturally, extremely popular) concept that female athletes can be beautiful in spite of being athletic. 

The fans in Istanbul were very enthusiastic and appeared to thoroughly enjoy the event. They were thanked profusely be every player who made an appearance at the trophy ceremony. Both Kvitova and Azarenka had a lot of wildly cheering supporters, which made for a great final. My only quibble with the tournament, which I thought was a beautiful event, was that the court was painted Oriflame green, which made it hard to see the ball on television.

And finally, though it makes me sad to think about it, it was so great that the crowd in Istanbul was treated to this:


Dave from Tennis DVDs said...

Patty Schnyder was a very talented player although I don't think she quite lived up to her full potential.

Diane said...

I agree, Dave. As a fan, I often felt frustrated about that. I do miss Patty; no one can replace her.