The victory at Miami open in 2023, for Petra Kvitova, was a truly a great achievement. Her biggest title in 5 years and an historic 30th career title and 9th 1000 level trophy. For many people, this one came as a big surprise so how did Petra manage to win?
Firstly, this was not completely out of the blue. Petra had had some good wins in 2023 including wins over Jess Pegula and Rybakina and a run to the quarter-finals in Indian Wells. And despite the fact she’s never been a fan of humid conditions, she has had some good results in Miami in the past. She made the quarter-finals last year and had a decent run the year before as well. So this did not come out of nowhere. Petra has been playing decent tennis but just had not gone that deep in tournaments so far this year. Plus, this is Petra we are talking about! Someone with possibly the highest peak – apart from Serena – of recent times.
Secondly, Petra is champion. Quality really shone through more and more as the tournament went on. In most of the matches this week she had to fight and battle pretty hard, but ultimately was able to raise her game in the important moments and get the break, hold with a big serve or put in a big return. The champions’ mentality, the ability to manage her game, know when to conserve energy and when to really go for it was evident. It’s probably the chief reason why she won the title. This was especially true in the final when Petra didn’t serve a single double fault and her control of her strokes was exceptional.
Her haul of 30 titles is well clear of her contemporaries, Halep(24), Azarenka (21), Kuznetsova (18), Pliskova and Svitolina (16 each) and Kerber (15), and only Venus Williams on 49 is ahead of active players. Petra is a true champion – although despite these statistics, many would say she has underachieved or label her as ‘streaky’, which perhaps says a lot about the talent of this woman! Peak-Petra is a sight to behold – and what made me a fan in the first place.
Thirdly, there was a touch of fortune in Petra’s run to the Miami title – as there often has to be to win a tournament. Petra ended up mostly playing opponents with a similar style to her. She loves pace. She loves playing against aggressive players because she knows she matches up against anyone for pace, and given the opportunity she can raise her level higher than most of them. Probably her toughest match was against Gracheva in round four, because she was a different type of player, and her solid retrieving troubled Petra. However, that good fortune also meant that she avoided playing some of the players who probably would’ve given her even more trouble.
In the fourth round, Alexandrova was playing Bianca Andreescu, and many of us Petra fans weren’t looking much beyond that match, as Andreescu beat Petra handily in Guadalajara at the end of last year. She’s a tricky player, not a power player, who gets everything back, moves well and is someone who does have that extra level and quality as a grand slam champion. Cetainly the type of player Petra does not like to play. Sadly for Andreescu, she slipped and injured her ankle in the match against Alexandrova. Good fortune for Petra, unlucky for Andreescu…
Petra also had a measure of good fortune with her semifinal opponent. It was projected to be Aryna Sabalenka, who is the Australian Open champion and in great form. Sabalenka had pretty much demolished Barbora Krejcikova in the fourth round with one of the most exemplary displays of power tennis this year. Krejcikova has been playing well recently but just couldn’t get a look in at all. Once again, Petra’s good fortune kicked in because Sabalenka subsequently had a bad day in losing to Sorana Cirstea in the quarter-finals. Krejcikova or Sabalenka would’ve been a much tougher opponent for Petra, because while Cirstea has played well, she doesn’t really have that extra gear and the ability to raise her level. In beating Sabalenka, she just played very solidly throughout, Aryna really self-destructed. Avoiding slam champions, Sabalenka and Krejcikova was definitely a positive for Petra.
I would also say Petra was slightly fortunate in that Elena Rybakina really did not play her best tennis in the final. She was undoubtedly weary after a long month in the US. She was going for the sunshine double of titles having won Indian Wells. Of course, all credit to Petra for the way that she played this match, but Rybakina didn’t serve well, especially on second serve. She really didn’t seem to know where to put the ball. On several of her second serves, the ball just sat up for Petra to whack away for a winner. And like many before her, she never got to grips with Petra’s wide lefty serve to the ad-court. Perhaps if she’d been a little fresher mentally, she might have found some solutions, but after that long first set tiebreak Rybakina looked physically and emotionally a bit empty (not that you can tell that easily, with famously stone-faced on court Elena Rybakina!) To come back from a set down, after losing the first set in such a dramatic fashion was always going to be a mountain to climb for Rybakina. The fact Petra was able to hold her nerve better to take that epic tie break was huge. It gave Petra a mental and physical advantage, which to her credit, she fully took advantage of, and stamped her authority in the second set. Ultimately, winning it 6-2 and breaking Rybakina’s serve twice.
Another factor in this title run was to do with the courts in Miami and how they suited Petra’s game. The courts are quite fast and Petra was able to be very effective both with her ground strokes and with the serve. Her opponents struggled throughout the week to cope with her serve, especially that wide ad-court lefty swinger, which Petra managed to be incredibly accurate with, but also got good pace, often serving it at 95mph+.
While her first serve is not not the fastest, she can hit all 4 corners, use spin or slice or flatten it out with more pace. Her extremely regular ball toss makes her serve very hard to read for opponents, and that serve was probably one of the biggest keys to her victory this week. Petra only lost her serve once in 5 of the 6 matches she played this week. (She was broken twice by Donna Vekic but that was it.)
For me, one of the most under rated things about Petra is the quality of her second serve. Her second serve is one of the faster ones on tour – although it can also misfire leading to a high number of double faults – but she gets pace and accuracy on it, so this means it is less attackable than many of her opponents’ second serves. Like many players, when Petra serves well, she wins. A bad serving day often means defeat. This week, her serve was definitely a strength. Petra held serve more than anyone else, and was able to be more aggressive on return to achieve a break of serve, with the security she would hold her own serve most of the time.
Her most impressive serving performances also came as the tournament developed, culminating in a masterful serving performance in the final – zero double faults and 78% points won on serve including 75% points won on the second serve which is an absurd statistic. Rybakina hit 12 aces but only won 65% of service points and only 52% on second serve.
Something Petra mentioned in press was her attitude on the court. She wasn’t too happy after the loss to Sakkari in Indian Wells – and rightly so. She was well on top, pretty much teaching the Greek a lesson, but when she failed to break for a second time in set 2, she got impatient and went for big winners – and missed. She was then out-run by the super fit Sakkari, and indeed fitness – especially in the Miami humidity was a concern. Petra has often seemed to run out of energy in matches after an hour so, but apart from the very end of the Gracheva match, she looked fit and strong throughout. She also kept fighting in the matches, as only really the first match against Noskova was a stroll. The other matches were arm-wrestles! That never give up attitude meant she only dropped one set all tournament and even kept her headband on in the last two matches!
Also a factor in her victory – it was not the very hottest Miami. It was apparently still quite humid, but there was a lot of rain that definitely caused delays. Thankfully, Petra was not scheduled to play in the heat of the day – when she tends to wilt. Or when she did have a mid-afternoon match, it was on the more sheltered centre court. I still have bad memories from 2021 when Petra played Svitolina in the 4th round, was well on top but it got hotter and hotter and Petra really struggled in the heat! Svitolina was always super-fit and coped better to win 7-5 in the third.
One of the most remarkable statistics about Petra’s finals record – now 30 wins from 41 finals – is that she has NEVER lost a final after winning the first set! In 24 of those 30 title matches she won the first set and subsequently the title. Only 6 finals have featured a fight back from a set down. Don’t know why I was nervous in set 2 of the final – although to be honest, the final was probably less stressful than many of the other matches! Petra really did look calm and in control in set 2.
So a tremendous couple of weeks. Petra stringing together 6 good wins – almost as good as a grand slam, and probably only one step below in terms of prestige (and payday!) It will be fascinating to see whether the title and the manner she won it in will lead to further success. For us Petra fans, we had hope that her 30th title would come but I don’t think too many of us had Miami down as the most likely one! Happy days..