Tactics Tuesday: Petkovic + Flipkens = A Doha Doozy
The tours’ fortnight in the Middle East continues, and the women have moved from Dubai to Doha with more stacked fields and a lot tasty early round match-ups. In today’s Tactics Tuesday we take a look at a topsy-turvy affair between prime mover Andrea Petkovic and resurgent Belgian, Kirsten Flipkens.
There is no point in beating about the bush – Flipkens is an uncomfortable match-up for the 27-year-old German. The 2013 Wimbledon semifinalist has made variety a cornerstone of her game, mixing up the spin and weight of any given ball. While she can dictate play with her forehand, the former No. 13 often relies on a sliced, low-bouncing backhand to sneak up to the net when opportunity knocks.
Petkovic, by contrast, is a far more metronomic player, hitting the ball at a consistent pace off both wings. While she has added more variety over the years, the German is most happy to play in rhythm, and players like Flipkens or even Magdalena Rybarikova are more than capable of changing things up, and frustrating her as a result.
When the Belgium’s game is on – like it was in their last meeting in New Haven – it can cause the World No. 10 all sorts of problems as it keeps her from motoring through rallies. When off, Flipkens herself is more prone to hitting a myriad of unforced errors – particularly off of the forehand side.
In many of her matches of late, we’ve gotten to witness both.
The scrappy opener wasn’t the prettiest by any means, presenting viewers a little bit of everything. The World No. 65 got off to the quicker start, breaking early, but the German Fed Cup heroine caught up quickly; from there, neither player was able to capitalize on any short-lived momentum throughout.
Petkovic had a chance to serve for the set at 6-5, but produced a surprisingly sloppy game to falter short of the finish. The ensuing tie-break featured some of the best tennis of the set from both players – even if the scoreboard swung rather wildly. Eventually, Flipkens overcame an initial 0-3 deficit to take the Sudden Death, 7-5.
This is likely a good time to mention the match’s mischievous third player: WIND, The (WEA). Though it wasn’t nearly as strong as it was on Doha’s opening day, it was still quite breezy, requiring more margin of error. Flipkens’ slice occasionally fell victim to a lack of adjustment – as did Petkovic’s flatter groundstrokes – but the wind slowly subsided as the match progressed.
In between sets, Petkovic’s coach Dirk Dier came on court and gave the German a couple of hints in one of the better on-court coaching exchanges you’re going to see on the WTA Tour:
The assisting coach of the German Fed Cup team advised Petkovic to be more proactive during rallies, but to stay low and be patient with Flipkens’ slices. He went on to recommend that his charge be careful not to give her opponent too much time on her forehand, which is the more dangerous – but also occasionally less reliable – shot.
Petkovic was quick to pick up on her coach’s hints and wasted little time in leaping out in front from a set down. After a hard fought first service game, the German raced out to a double break lead at 4-0. Across the net, Flipkens’ focus appeared to wane after a tough first set. Fifteen minutes into the second set, the 29-year-old with the distinctive glasses began to regroup, playing closer to the baseline and taking more charge of the rallies.
Petkovic went on to lose one of her breaks, but the remainder of the set was on equal footing as she held to force a decider.
Late into the second set, Petkovic received a medical time-out. In her conversation with the German trainer, she explained that she feared a pulled muscle in her thigh after chasing a backhand out wide. She further complained that her lower back was blocked – an issue that had also caused her problems during her winning week in Antwerp.
Luckily for the German, these physical issues were hardly detrimental to her game – something she verbally confirmed to her coach in a subsequent on-court chat. Did it disrupt any momentum Flipkens had going? Maybe a little. But Petkovic had long since taken the wind from her opponent’s sails when she eked out a tight service game to hold for 5-2.
The final set began in close fashion, but Flipkens soon found herself on the skids, losing the final five games of the match.
Last year’s Roland Garros semifinalist didn’t play as well as she had in the second set, but was solid through her opponent’s more changeable form. For Flipkens, a qualifier in Doha, it was her fourth match in four days, and there is a good chance that the Belgian was a little tired towards the end of the match during several key moments, some mental – if not physical – fatigue seemed apparent.
Petkovic is becoming an expert at winning below her best; she began today’s match all over the place, but towards the end of the match, her often iffy serve held up despite some discomfort when landing on her left leg.
The German diesel might just be kicking into gear, despite a difficult start to the year.
What did you think was key to today’s match? Sound off in the comments!
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