Wimbledon 2014: Petra Kvitova edges Venus Williams in battle of champions

Wimbledon 2014: 2011 winner Petra Kvitova beats five-time champion Venus Williams 5-7 7-6 (7-2) 7-5 to reach fourth round

2011 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova Photo: Marianne Bevis

The big four: it’s become the short-hand in tennis for the quartet of men that has dominated tennis for the last decade.

Since Wimbledon 2004, only three men not named Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray have managed to win a Major title, one in each of three different Grand Slams.

As for Wimbledon, no-one has broken “the big four” stranglehold on the title since Federer won his first in 2003—and only three on the current tour have even broken through as a finalist.

On the women’s side of the game, there has been a wider range of names in the Grand Slam frame: There are 10 in action at Wimbledon this week, and a further four champions since Wimbledon 2004 have since retired.

But when it comes to The Championship, there is nonetheless a quartet of women that has dominated not just in the last 10 years but for most of this century.

Beginning in 2000, with the first of Venus Williams’ five victories, the name of Williams—Serena also has five—has appeared 10 times. Two champions—Amelie Maursmo in 2006 and Marion Bartoli last year—have since retired, leaving only two other active players in this year’s draw with a Wimbledon title to their name.

One of them is Maria Sharapova, in 2004 and the other is Petra Kvitova, who stormed through to victory over the Russian in 2011.

Since their first Wimbledon contest in 2004, when Sharapova stunned the defending champion Serena, it established what was to become a long rivalry, albeit a lop-sided one in Williams’ favour, that still captures the imagination today. So when the two former champions were drawn in the same quarter of the draw, the headlines went into overdrive.

But in the bottom half of the draw, another match jumped off the page—and that was between the other two former Wimbledon champions.

The rivalry between the 34-year-old Venus Williams and 24-year-old Kvitova has not been played out very often but has become intensely competitive. Both tall power players who love to attack and who thrive on the grass, the younger woman is a lefty, the older a righty.

Kvitova took the upper hand when she was still a teenager, beating Williams in Memphis in 2008, and has beaten her in two of their other three matches, but make no mistake: all of their contests have been as close as could be.

All have been three-setters, and the last two were decided in a final tie-break in a two-and-a-half hour battle. The last was this spring in Doha—but the two women had never met on grass. Now they would meet on the biggest grass stage of all, Centre Court.

There were, though, two big questions that may determine the result, apart from the surface.

Kvitova was forced to pull out of Eastbourne last week with a thigh strain, and was heavily strapped in winning her first two matches here—though she only dropped five games in the process.

And Williams continues to manage the debilitating Sjogren’s Syndrome that forced her to withdraw from the US Open in 2011 and miss the next seven months of the tour. Her returns to competition were spasmodic, for she still lives with the condition, controlling it with diet, discipline and determination.

After finishing 2011 outside top 100, she climbed back to No24 by the end of 2012, having picked up the doubles title with her sister at Wimbledon and the Olympics. And this year, she won her 45th title in Dubai—the second most titles among active players (after Serena).

As Kvitova acknowledged: “She’s a big champion here. She likes to play on the grass, and I’m totally the same. I’m looking forward to this match. I think it’s going to be great fight. We have always had very tough matches, so I’m expecting the same.”

Williams opened serve and faced down a break point, but there were few chances on either side as both stepped inside the baseline and opened their shoulders to pound huge ground strokes on both wings. It was first-strike tennis, with balls played deep to the lines and with pace and angle.

Both made the odd foray to the front of the court—and Kvitova in particular has wonderful hands on the drop shot or touch volley—but Williams in full flight, striding forward and picking a big backhand volley, was a sight to behold. She has always been an imposing figure, but this year looks particularly elegant in one of the most classy dresses of the tournament, designed by herself, as it happens.

Kvitova, though with more variety at her disposal, is also less predictable, less consistent, and it would come down to errors as they edged to 5-5. The American had made just three, Kvitova 14. Williams held serve with ease and went after Kvitova’s to earn 0-40, and a backhand just wide from Kvitova conceded the set, 7-5.

The second set began in a similar way, with Williams challenged in the opening game but surviving.

The sixth game summed up the intensity of the entire match: 30-30, Kvitova serving and pummelling huge balls to both wings. It ended with Williams desperately stretching for a wide forehand but dropping heavily to the court. Was she alright? Well Kvitova held serve, but Williams came back with a vicious, attacking love hold.

Indeed both were serving superbly with not a break point as they headed to an inevitable tie-break, and this time, Kvitova made a flurry of winners and Williams a few errors as she went for broke. The Czech levelled, 7-6(2).

The third set continued in the same vein, no quarter given.

At 5-5, Kvitova showed a brief moment of weakness, serving two double faults, but refocused to ace and hold. This had the look of another tie-breaker, but Williams would offer up her first break point since the first set—only the third by either player in the match—and it proved to be the decisive point. Serving second, break point was also match point, and Williams netted a backhand.

It would be Kvitova moved on, 7-5, after yet another two-and-a-half hour match.

It deserved—and got—a standing ovation, the only disappointment being that this great contest did not come deeper in the draw.

Williams is still in the doubles competition with her sister, but it is the popular Kvitova, playing with something like her 2011 form, who goes on to play Shuai Peng.

The loss of two big seeds in this half of the draw, Victoria Azarenka and Li Na, has certainly opened the door for Kvitova to make another run here, though Caroline Wozniacki continued her comfortable progress, dropping just three games, and Agnieszka Radwanska advanced for the cost of just two games.

Also in Radwanska’s quarter, No10 seed Dominika Cibulkova, lost to No23 seed Lucie Safarova.

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