The WTA1000 event at Indian Wells is sometimes known as the fifth Grand Slam. At least that’s what Indian Wells would like to be, however one difference is that players do not get a day off in between every match. And what a two days it has been for Petra Kvitova. In my previous post, I talked about Krejcikova losing to Sabalenka and Petra Kvitova due to play Jessica Pegula later that day. Pegula is the world number three and has been playing probably about the most consistent tennis in the last 12 months, bar Iga Świątek.
Having come through the rollercoaster match with Jelena Ostapenko, Petra was back on court on Tuesday to play Jessica Pegula in the fourth round.
Petra‘s record at Indian Wells is not particularly impressive. She’s made 2 quarter-finals, but the last of those was 7 years ago. Consequently, most fans of Petra Kvitova don’t view the so-called sunshine double (Indian Wells and Miami) with a lot of anticipation as these are two tournaments that don’t especially suit Petra. Indian Wells’ slow courts mean that her powerful shots often don’t have the penetration. Meanwhile, Miami is often extremely humid – something asthmatic Petra does not enjoy.
Because of these reasons, it is even more surprising to report on what actually happened in the last couple of days. The Kvitova-Pegula match ended up being a real classic, notable largely for the tiebreak in the final set. Petra ended up winning the final set tiebreak 13, points to 11 having saved four match points. Truthfully, she should’ve won this match sooner because she came out firing at the start of the match. Petra took the first set quite easily but unfortunately had one of the dips in set two. It looked like the momentum was with Pegula when she got a break and was up in the final set. However, Petra fought back and saved the first match point at 4-5 time. She was really going for shots and the match was very much on Petra‘s racket – as is nearly always the case. Pegula was especially passive in this match and barely put a winner in the court.
When it got to that final set tiebreak, the level rose from both players, and it was full of drama and excitement. Kvitova saved three more match points with tremendous winners.
This is why I’m such a big fan of Petra. She’s so excited to watch when she’s playing well. The way that she bossed Pegula and made her look pedestrian was notable. Petra was the aggressor throughout. She fully deserved the win.
But what a difference a day makes. Less than 24 hours afterwards, Petra was in the quarter-finals against Maria Sakkari of Greece. Sakkari beat Petra very easily at Indian Wells last year in one of Petra‘s poorer performances. She barely put up a fight and took a heavy 6-3, 6-0 loss. Sakkari is noted for her physicality and her physique. When you see her, she looks like somebody who loves the gym and I believe that is the case. However, she is also known for getting passive at times and despite being a top 10 player, having only ONE WTA250 title from 2019 to her name. The other thing Sakkari is known for its been an extremely nice girl and she was gracious and generous in her praise of Petra after the match. Spoiler alert, Sakkari won, Petra lost.
But that doesn’t tell the whole story.
I expected Petra to be tired after the emotional victory over Pegula the day before and Sakkari’s fitness to be too much for a weary Petra. But she came out looking driven, focused and playing like she did in that match and in the Ostapenko match in the final two sets. This is classic Petra – variety and accuracy on the serve, beautiful ground shots, keeping the ball so deep that the opponent can do nothing. Sakkari mentioned in her interview that Petra made her feel like an amateur on the court in that set. And indeed, Petra really was totally in charge and served for the first set at 5-2. However, that was the first time when she wobbled and her double faults were one of the massive keys this match. She eventually put away the first set 6-4.
Petra started the second set strongly, broke straightaway went 3-1 up and had break points to lead 4-1 with herself to come. This was the key moment of the match and when Petra should have put down the hammer and closed the match out. Petra was in charge. Us fans were just cock-a-hoop.
Serves us right!
Because from there things started to go downhill. Credit to Sakkari, she started to make the match physical. She made Petra move and run and while Petra‘s fitness has actually been very good this week, she’s never going to be able to outlast Sakkari.
Having said that, Petra had chance after chance. She served something like 12 double faults and a lot of those were at key times. She would get to 40-0 and then Sakkari would fight back or Petra would double fault. Sakkari made very few winners. Once again this match was on Petra‘s racket. Petra was serving to stay in the second set 5-6 down and it was an absolute must win to get to the tiebreak and hopefully put away the match, but it didn’t turn out like that. Sakkari put pressure on her and Petra missed. Once Sakkari took the second set on the tie break, the writing was on the wall.
Petra didn’t totally go away in the final set, she actually carried on trying to hit trying winners, but she was definitely slowing down. Her shots were just drifting out she wasn’t able to get on as deep as she had been. Let’s face it she’s 33 years old. She just played a long match the night before and she was playing against probably the fittest player on tour. Apparently she’s been having some problems with her arm and I’m hoping that it’s not the same injury that she had last year which blighted a season. Perhaps it’s the balls that many of the players have been complaining about causing arm and wrist injuries. I’m trying to make excuses for why she hit so many double faults at key times.
Petra’s service a huge weapon. It is certainly not the fastest on the tour. In fact she’s probably speed wise is one of the slowest servers! Yet she wins a lot of points because of the variety, accuracy and angle that she hits. I also think Petra second serve is one of the most underrated aspects of her game.
Petra’s first serve nearly always around 105, maybe 110 on a really good day and indeed she did hit 110 miles an hour serve in the tiebreak. Her second serve, however, is one of the faster second serves on tour – usually over 90mph.
A common issue lately has been Petra’s fitness and stamina. She often looks exhausted after about an hour on court. But she really did not look tired in this tournament and won back to back, emotional three set matches against Ostapenko and Pegula.
I think she was quite smart in most of the three matches. When she was playing well, she was keeping the point short and she was winning. As soon as the points became extended, that’s when Sakkari in particular started to win.
Sakkari moves on to play Aryna Sabalenka in the semifinals, and actually that may be a blessing in disguise for Petra Kvitova! Sabalenka is looked awesome. I mentioned in the previous blog about the match against Barbora Krejcikova, Sabalenka serve was the difference. She served so well – fast, powerful and with variety that Barbara was not able to break down. Today Sabalenka beat Coco Gauff 6-4, 6-0. No break points, no double faults. Since winning the Australian Open, her only defeat has been to Krejcikova in Dubai and she is looking awesome at the moment. I will be extremely surprised if Sakkari can get that close. Sabalenka has to be huge favourite to make the final and possibly even to win the title.
Another player enjoying a bit of a revival this week has been Britain’s Emma Raducanu. After her simply amazing victory in the US Open in 2021 Raducanu has struggled to follow it up. She hasn’t got anywhere near winning another title and has struggled to win more than two matches in a row since then. This week she got three good wins including over Magda Linette and Beatriz Haddad Maia and what was especially impressive was the way she was playing. Raducanu had come into the tournament with injury worries, but she was playing this type of tennis that took her to the US Open title.
One more great comeback story is Karolina Muchova. I love Muchoba’s game. She’s elegant – almost Federer-like as she moves around the court and caresses the ball. However, she is probably the most injury prone player on the WTA tour. Very happy to see her fit, and if she can avoid further injury, I expect her to be in a regular in the top 20 and possibly top 10.
So all in all, a good week for Petra, but she will be a touch disappointed – as us fans are – that she could not win this match and make her first Indian Wells semi-final. Her form is encouraging and bodes well for 2023.