A proper summary and all the quotes you need — this is the second edition of “Stuttgart Express.” In the first match on Thursday at Porsche Arena in Stuttgart, Monica Niculescu and Petra Kvitova were involved in one of the best matches of this tournament so far. René Denfeld recaps the dramatic three-set victory for the Czech.
In TTI’s words
Amongst the broad public, it might not have been the most anticipated match but from the outset, the complete contrast in styles between Kvitova’s heavy ball-striking and Niculescu’s heavy slicing was always going to guarantee a fun encounter — and the match completely delivered on its premise.
In the first set, the Romanian was able to play close to her very best — she mixed up her shots as much as possible and gave Kvitova all sorts of different spins to work with as the Czech struggled to adjust to the myriad of funny bounces. A couple of bad misses aside, the No. 5 seed wasn’t playing bad tennis but the lefty just found herself outmaneuvered by her opponent’s craft and guile.
Where the opener was most about the Romanian’s strong performance as she outwitted Kvitova time and time again, the second set featured a lot of see-saws in momentum. Niculescu broke right at the beginning but after that game, it was the Czech who began to connect more to the ball. Kvitova’s footwork saw a significant uptick in energy, which allowed her to get into better position and deliver a cleaner strike in the ball.
Once the World No. 6 started serving for the second set, however, her first serve percentage dwindled and she botched a backhand volley beyond the tramlines to find herself broken — from there, Niculescu found another gear to take five successive games, and even saved set point on her own serve.
The match reached its dramatic climax when the Romanian had the opportunity to close out the encounter on her own serve at 6-5 but despite her three match points, it wasn’t meant to be. Throughout the rest of the match, Niculescu was forced to rue her bad luck. Not only did Kvitova save two match points with fantastic winners, but a dead net cord saved her from losing in the second round in Stuttgart for the third successive year.
After the match went into a tiebreak, the Czech No. 1 began to pull ahead, not only winning set two but ultimately dominating in the third to wrap up the match 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 win.
Niculescu continued fighting but appeared a little tired towards the end of the second set, which she later admitted in press. For Kvitova, today’s match was a litmus test — considering Niculescu’s playing style wreaks havoc on her opponents’ rhythm — but with a lot courageous serve-and-volleying, the 26-year-old kept a lot more points short than many other players would against Niculescu.
In the players’ own words
On how she ended up in such a roller coaster match and what went against her in set 1:
“I started…I think too much — I was really trying to play too perfectly and I was really trying from the first just going for it and it wasn’t really paying off. I missed a lot and I know that she can’t miss. So, it was really quick the first set and I was just trying to calm down a little bit and play, like, more consistently through the match.”
On how her many net approaches ultimately helped her win the match against Niculescu’s unorthodox game:
“I think you have to be ready for every shot you’re playing. I think you can’t really practice. It’s very different. I knew it will be very difficult, I lost to her in Fed Cup in January or February and I especially knew that on the clay it’s a little bit slow as well; I’m happy that I served well and played a lot of volleys today. I think it was the most volleys I ever played in my life (laughs). I knew that from the baseline it would be very difficult.”
On how her long clay practice helped her adjust her footwork to the bounce of the clay and Niculescu’s balls:
“Yes, I think if I had not practiced for two weeks it would have been a different story today, definitely. I just felt that I’m using what I need on the clay, the small steps, slides and I was ready for the high balls as well. So, that’s a good sign of the preparation.”
On trying to balance the disappointment of the loss and the happiness about her level today:
“I am very disappointed. It was a tough one. I would like to take the positive things but it’s not easy having again match point. But again, I played good…unfortunately today, I had no luck. I think I played very well the match points but she hit a let and then I hit a great drop shot, she made an unbelievable drop shot back. I mean, come on, I don’t know, you have to have a bit of luck. I mean that let, I served so good, I said, ‘Okay now, I’m going to hit it,’ — it doesn’t matter what will happen and then she hit that let. I mean, I’m happy about my performance. I think it’s very good but I’m missing something; it’s sad and I’m disappointed, yes.”
On how the missed match points in two of her last three matches stayed on her mind:
“I was thinking too much, yes. Because with [Andrea] Petkovic I had two match points and I was thinking now in the match [to] play different, play better. Maybe they will stay, because in the third set they stayed and I was thinking every time what I should do, you know. Instead of going on and playing the third set 0-0 from the beginning I was thinking. Also when I had the match point, I was thinking about the match point with Petkovic. So, maybe this I can improve.”
On feeling the physical repercussions of a hectic past week towards the end of the match:
“I was tired in the end. I was tired and every point I was thinking about those match points. You have to forget, you know, but I was still fighting — but something, I was missing. Every time I was thinking, ‘Now look, now she will do a mistake,’ but she did not do a mistake then. But, in the end, I played great and she is Top 10. I did this match with her and I beat her one time. So, think positive, what can I do. Now, I’m very disappointed, very, very disappointed.”