Madrid Premier 2018: Courageous Kvitova beats battling Bertens to win her third in Spain

Petra Kvitova beats Kiki Bertens to win her third Madrid Premier title

Marianne Bevis
By Marianne Bevis

If their one and only previous meeting was anything to go by, Petra Kvitova should have been feeling very confident about taking on the Dutch woman Kiki Bertens in pursuit of her third Madrid Premier title.

It was almost three years ago, at the tournament where Kvitova has shone brightest: Wimbledon. The Czech was ranked No2 in the world, the Dutch 108, and it would be as one-sided as the statistics suggested: a 6-1, 6-0 trouncing in 36 minutes.

But in the latest battle between the two 6ft women, the odds were considerably more balanced. Bertens, owner of 10 doubles titles, was now ranked 20 in singles after winning the prestigious Charleston title this spring. And she was looking every inch a top-10 player in Madrid, where her movement and power from the baseline, and her combination of attacking tennis and great touch had taken the unseeded woman past No15 seed Anastasija Sevastova, No2 seed Caroline Wozniacki, former champion and No1 Maria Sharapova, and then No7 Caroline Garcia.

She was already looking at a career-high rank of No15, and victory in her first Premier Mandatory would make it No12.

But Kvitova was in fine fettle, not just with a couple of hard-court titles under her belt this year, the Premiers in St Petersburg and Doha, but an emotional win in her home tournament in Prague immediately before Madrid. However, she had played a lot of tennis, 29 wins for six losses, and she had spent almost eight hours on court to get through Monica Puig, Anett Kontaveit, Daria Kasatkina and Karolina Pliskova.

That last win gave her a tour-leading seven wins over top-10 players for the year, but had her exertions and her successes taken a toll? She carried heavy taping around her right thigh, and her body language was less energetic than Bertens’, but the popular Czech’s deceptively languid movement belies her energy and strength. This would be a compelling and closely-contested battle from the very first game.

It took Bertens a tough six minutes and 14 points to hold her opening serve, and it took Kvitova even longer, via 12 serves, to hold hers. Each had to save two break points: the match, then, was already delivering on its promise.

Bertens fought off two break points for 3-2, and then benefited from a poor service game from the former champion to take the lead. It was, though, short-lived: Kvitova hit straight back, and made a gutsy hold via deuces to level at 4-4.

The two women remained locked all the way to a tie-break, now one thumping a winner, now the other, first one slicing an immaculate drop-shot, then the other.

Kvitova edged a lead in the tie-break to bring up two set points, but with 72 minutes on the clock, Bertens levelled at 6-6, and with just one point more than her opponent. However Kvitova got a third bite of the cherry, and this time on her serve, and drew the error for the set, 7-6(6).

Both women were credited with more errors than winners, though it had not felt that way. No matter: Kvitova looked as though she had the bit between her teeth to open with a love hold. However, Bertens’ serving was also solid as the roof closed against the persistent drizzle. Both had worn back tops against the weather, but now both could discard them: And the tennis warmed up, too.

As the set went on, Kvitova came under greater pressure, survived a long fifth game and break points, but was finally broken in the seventh. This time, Bertens did not waver and served out the set, 6-4, with an ace.

There are fewer errors now, but Kvitova began to look increasingly drained. Bertens tried to take advantage, running the Czech into the net and back, and earning two break points in the first game of the decider, but Kvitova found a great drop winner to hold, and turned the pressure on Bertens.

Now the Dutch woman fended off break points and five deuces through nine long minutes, but hold she did. Neither seemed able to get the edge, and a break on Bertens side was cancelled out by a break back.

Bertens seemed to have more energy, was mixing thing up with slice and angle, but Kvitova was able to turn up the power at key moments to force errors in reply. A big forehand down the line earned another break chance on Bertens serve, the Dutch woman resisted, and then saved another break point with an ace, but she eventually saw a backhand cross-court winner land on the line to break, 3-5.

It was now or never, or Kvitova would surely have run out of energy: She served it out to love, her third Madrid title.

Heartbreak, of course, for Bertens to be on the losing side after almost three hours and 238 points. And her rise into the top 16 has not come soon enough to grant her one of the 16 seedings in Rome: She will open against Maria Sakkari before facing Pliskova.

And Kvitova has a hard time of it too: No bye because the draw was made before her top-eight rise this weekend. What is more, she plays the considerably fresher Johanna Konta in the first round. But her eye will now, surely, be looking ahead to Roland Garros—the scene of a remarkable comeback last year.

Because it is worth remembering the journey that Kvitova has travelled in the last year. She did not play Madrid last year, for she was yet to return to competitive tennis after an attack in her home in December 2016 almost ended her career. Doctors surgically repaired her playing hand, with no certainty that it would return to its former strength.

The mental fortitude that brought her back, six months after the attack, to play at Roland Garros, and from there to win her next tournament, on the grass of Birmingham, is remarkable in itself. Now, less than a year later, she leads the tour in match-wins—30—and in titles—four—and rises back to No8 in the ranks from 29 at the start of 2018. It is a story and a half, and the Madrid trophy really could not have gone to a more deserving champion.

NB Kvitova subsequently announced that she has withdrawn from the Rome draw.

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