It was the first of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix semifinals in Stuttgart and it promised to be a cracker. Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber had met a total of seven times, with the German having won three and the Czech four of the encounters — with five of the matches going the distance. The eighth meeting between Kvitova and Kerber proved to be no different; the pair battled hard for over two hours, but it was the hometown hero and defending champion who managed to run away with the win at the end. This is the first semifinal dispatch of “Stuttgart Express.”
In TTI’s words
Porsche Arena was packed. Porsche Arena was loud. Porsche Arena was ready for the battle of the two best lefties on the WTA Tour.
Kvitova was the first to allow her opponent some inroads into her service games in the match, as she gifted Kerber a break with three successive double faults in the third game. After touching out a hold in the next game, the German confirmed her advantage and put herself in the driver’s seat.
From there on out, Kerber pulled ahead but Kvitova’s tendency to blow hot and cold manifested on the scoreboard as the set progressed. The Czech lefty hit numerous winners off of her opponents serve, rattling the German for a while — something she also admitted to her coach Torben Beltz, who came down for a chat at 4-3, right after Kerber lost one of her breaks.
Beltz’s suggestions and tips seemed to come to fruition quickly; Kerber changed direction more often, eliciting more errors from Kvitova and went for more body serves. As a result, the Australian Open champion carried herself and her remaining break of serve over the line to close out the opener, 6-4.
The second set remained on serve until the German stepped up to the line at 4-5, serving to stay in the set; at this point, Kerber threw in a rare loose game and Kvitova — who had been raising her level slowly but surely throughout the second set — exploited a moment of wavering focus of the defending champion and forced a decider.
In between sets the Stuttgart DJ decided to drop Helene Fischer’s “Atemlos” to lift the German’s spirit — something that had previously worked in the last set of the 2015 final, when Kerber yelped along to the chorus as Beltz talked to her during the changeover.
This time, the “Atemlos” effect was in full force again as well, as Kerber quickly broke Kvitova’s serve and held to grab a 2-0 lead. Afterwards the Czech was able to level the score again — courtesy of some screaming winners and fantastic rallies but ultimately, the Czech’s margin error began to decrease, and more and more of her groundstrokes that had previously found the line ended up traveling wide or long.
After two hours and three minutes, the German converted her first match point after denying Kvitova another three chances to break and make her way back into the match.
In the players’ own words
On her feelings after Kvitova broke for the second set:
“[In my head I thought] that nothing is lost yet. I played three-set matches a number of times before and it’s not like this is something that’s a rarity for me. That’s why I tried to tap into all my energy and power in the final set and just as I said on court, the crowd really helped me to just everything I can and go beyond my limits.
I think the longer break [between the second and third set] was quite good and I just tried to take a look at the first two sets in hindsight and start over in the third set and I played really well in the third set and I think that was key in the third set and the end of the match.”
On letting her emotions run free to deal with situations on court:
“That’s just the way I am sometimes; the emotions just come up and it helps me find my place again and yeah, I tried to play point by point and run for every ball in the third set. It’s unbelievably beautiful to play out there on that centre court; it was a full stadium once again and these memories form 2015 when the crowd pulled me through even when I wasn’t 100 percent anymore is something that I felt as well and I hope it’ll be the same tomorrow.”
On playing a lefty but not being a natural lefty herself:
“It’s a little bit different also the serve is a little bit different. I was warming up today with a lefty so that was maybe good for but still it’s always tricky to play against a lefty as well — but I mean today after like the first few games I get used to it but it’s always not so easy.
I’m not natural lefty. I’m actually right-hander, I don’t know why. I think for my game I’m a natural lefty. I’m playing really from the beginning with the left hand so for me it’s natural.”
On lacking a little energy in the final stages of the match:
“Unfortunately, I didn’t hold my serve the next game [after breaking back in the third] which I think was a little bit the main thing of the third and then I felt like I had no energy left. I was really trying but when I didn’t put a first serve it was so difficult. She returned really well; we played some rallies again and I just felt I’m not really able to stay there.”
On her serve not helping her out as much as yesterday:
“Unfortunately yes, not every day is perfect of course but I think still — I didn’t serve that well I still had a chance and I think if I didn’t make the double faults, who knows? It’s just “if” so it doesn’t really matter right now but I’m happy that I played what I played today.”
On the takeaways from a much stronger start to the clay season than in previous years:
“Yes, I hope it will help me. We will see at the end of the clay season. But this is a very good start of the clay season and I hope I will show it in the next tournament. I played a few matches before Madrid, which I think can help me to defend the title over there but the conditions and everything is different. So, I have to be ready a few days before and practice.”