Istanbul: Kvitova d. Stosur

by: | October 29, 2011

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201110290954356401574-p2@stats_comThe lack of uniformity in statistics-keeping left us—oddly—without one of the most telling statistics of all following Petra Kvitova's 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 win over Sam Stosur in the semifinals of the WTA Championships in Istanbul, Turkey. We don't know exactly how many unforced errors either player made, and that's often all you need to know.

In Kvitova's case, though, it can also be deceptive. For when the 21-year-old Wimbledon champion from the Czech Republic is making lots of unforced errors, she's playing her most effective game—albeit not particularly well. For Kvitova is a player who lives or dies by aggressive, first-strike tennis. If she's making unforced errors, you know she's going for it. And this year, going for it with that big game—one of the biggest and most promising produced by the WTA in recent years—has been paying off.

The score in this one makes the match appear closer than it was. Stosur won the first set after trailing 2-4, mostly because the wheels fell off Kvitova's game. She went into a swoon during which she lost six of seven games, spraying balls all over the court. Although it was inexplicable, it's also familiar—for Kvitova is one of the most streaky of WTA players.

But much to her credit, Kvitova has learned to weather those difficult patches without panicking. That's been a big component in her success this year. Combine that talent—if that's what it is—with Stosur's newfound grit, determination, poise and talent for playing well when she's behind and you have the makings of match that's less dramatic the scores suggest.

Once Kvitova found the court again in the second game of the second set, she held and then broke Stosur for a 2-1 lead. Stosur never pulled even, much less led, the rest of the way. In the third set, Kvitova led by 5-0 only to see Stosur loosen up and go for broke when she was on the brink. The U.S. Open champ reeled off three games, but the final game of the match was emblematic. Kvitova started that game with a forehand approach winner (after Stosur had an excellent service return negated by an overrule that Hawkeye proved erroneous). Then came a service winner, a forehand line winner, and a lob that forced a Stosur backhand error to end it. 

The match stats do quantify one of Kvitova's less heralded talents—one that may be at least as valuable as that big lefty serve. She has an excellent return, which she used to great effect to neutralize Stosur's WTA-best kick serve. Stat of the match: Kvitova won 42 percent of her first-serve returns, to just 32 percent by Stosur.

Making the final in her first appearance in the WTA Championships puts Kvitova in the elite company of Maria Sharapova (2004), Serena Williams (2001), Martina Hingis (1996) and a handful of others on a short list. Kvitova earned the honor, no matter how the final goes. Though there's reason to think it will go well: She's a perfect 18-0 indoors this year.

—Pete Bodo

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