Wuhan Open: Petra Kvitova and Dominika Cibulkova contest title in pursuit of Singapore
Dominika Cibulkova and Petra Kvitova will meet in the Wuhan final as the race to the WTA Finals hots up
In a week that has presented some of the finest tennis of the season on the magnificent circular stage of the Wuhan Open’s centre court, Petra Kvitova, the current world No16 and champion in the first playing of this prestigious Premier in 2014, has perhaps been the standout performer throughout.
Not for her a bye in the first round, and at the start of the tournament, she looked like a very long shot for a place at the WTA Finals in three weeks’ time. The draw did her no favours, either, picking up the highest-ranked unseeded play in Elina Svitolina in the second round, and then the world No1 and two-time 2016 Grand Slam champion, Angelique Kerber, in the third.
That battle for the quarter-finals proved to be one of the matches of tournament, if not the year—a three hour 20 minute marathon between the two left-handers who had last met earlier this month at the US Open. This time, Kvitova came out the victor, and showed not one iota of fatigue in taking apart No11 seed Johanna Konta in less than half the time.
But if that was impressive, Kvitova dealt out an even worse punishment to the in-form No4 seed, Simona Halep, who had just sealed her place in Singapore with her seamless progress to the semis without dropping a set. The tall Czech hit 34 winners and dropped only three games to race to the final in just 67 minutes.
Remarkably, Wuhan will be her first final of 2016. Remarkable, because last year Kvitova reached the final of the WTA Finals in Singapore ranked No5 having won three titles, and she went on to complete the year as part of the Fed Cup winning team.
One swing that did not yield good results last year, however, was Asia, where she won just a single match through Wuhan and Beijing.
This year, her form seemed to turn in her favour at the Rio Olympics, where she narrowly failed to reach the final in a three-setter over gold medallist, Monica Puig, but went on to claim bronze in another three-set match over Madison Keys.
From there, it was the semis in New Haven, a loss to champion Kerber in the fourth round of the US Open and, after another three-set loss to Puig in Tokyo, her first final of the year, where she will take on another resurgent woman who has battled hard to reach this stage.
Dominika Cibulkova, seeded 10 and thus also without an opening bye in Wuhan, has played no fewer than four three-setters, two of them on a single day after play was washed out by rain on Wednesday.
The bundle of energy that is Cibulkova has fought back from a four-month injury absence and a ranking of No38 last year to find herself in the frame for her first ever WTA Finals this autumn.
She took two hours and 35 minutes to beat fellow Singapore contender, Svetlana Kuznetsova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, to guarantee a return to the top 10 and a slot among the top eight for the WTA Finals—for the time being at least.
The Wuhan Open is Cibulkova’s fifth final of a year that includes titles in Katawice and Eastbourne. But it is some time since she faced Kvitova—Indian Wells in 2014 to be precise. There, the petite Slovak beat the 6ft Czech with ease, as she did in their previous meeting more than a year before that. No wonder Kvitova admitted:
“It’s long time since I played Domi. I think she improved her game, for sure. I think she’s trying to attack more, especially from the forehand. It’s true, I don’t really have great memories to playing her. But I think the same with Simona or Angie, or whoever. I should take the positive from all matches I played here and just try to do the same as I did all week here, because it was kind of good.”
Beijing, the richest remaining tournament on the Road to Singapore, will be key for the women who pursue the remaining five places, though there are a few more chances to gain points. But more of the same from Kvitova and Cibulkova will ensure those points do not come easy for the rest.
Remaining tournaments before Singapore
Next week: Beijing Premier Mandatory—champion points, 1,000
W/b 10 Oct: Tianjin OR Hong Kong OR Linz Internationals—champion points 280 each
W/b 17 Oct: Moscow Kremlin Cup Premier—champion points, 480
OR Luxembourg International—champion points, 280
Current Race rankings
1 Angelique Kerber (qualified)
2 Serena Williams (qualified)
3 Simona Halep (qualified)
4 Karolina Pliskova
5 Agnieszka Radwanska
6 Garbine Muguruza
7 Dominika Cibulkova
8 Madison Keys
9 Carla Suarez Navarro
10 Svetlana Kuznetsova
11 Johanna Konta
12 Petra Kvitova