Australian Open: Kvitova d. Errani

by: | January 24, 2012

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KvitovaPetra Kvitova straightened the silver tennis ball pendant around her neck, then got back to the business of shaking the ball and chain that dragged her into a 1-4 second-set deficit. A scrappy Sara Errani used her speed and spins to coax a sloppy Kvitova into spraying 44 unforced errors, but the Wimbledon winner found her range in reeling off five straight games to seal a 6-4, 6-4 sweep that sent her into the Australian Open semifinals.

The second-seeded Czech was not nearly at her best—she struggled to keep the ball between the lines, and tame frustration that boiled into racquet-bouncing angst at times—but she ultimately showed a quality that could carry her to the No. 1 ranking at the end of this event: Winning even when consistency eluded her. If Kvitova beats Maria Sharapova in the semifinals and equals Victoria Azarenka's Melbourne result, she will wake up Monday morning as new world No. 1.

It was a late wake-up call today as Kvitova's shot selection and spirit careened from shaky to jittery in a sporadic opening set that started with three straight breaks. It took 33 minutes to slog through five games as Errani, giving up seven inches in height, hung tough. But Kvitova broke for 5-2 and, despite giving a break back, eventually wandered through a 53-minute minefield of a set with the lead. Then things got a little ugly.

Kvitova clanked shots and was impatient in pulling the trigger prematurely during her second-set slump, but credit Errani for moving the ball around with grunt-aided guile and an energetic attitude normally found only in aerobic instructors and drill sergeants. It was in heavy contrast to Kvitova's mopey lethargy. Standing toe-to-toe with Kvitova in a hard-hitting exchange, Errani drew a backhand into the net to break for a 3-1 second-set advantage. When Errani consolidated for 4-1, an exasperated Kvitova, who was struggling to control simple rally shots down the middle, bounced her Wilson racquet off the blue court in disgust at dropping her fourth consecutive game.

After 91 minutes of play, Kvitova hit her first ace to dig out of a deuce game and hold for 2-4. That sparked a break that saw the lefthander lock it in, play with a bit more patience and spin, and take charge.

You can view some of Kvitova's missteps today as signs she will be vulnerable against opponents with bigger weapons than the 48th-ranked Errani, or see it as another step forward on the learning curve. Kvitova was erratic in her second-round win over Carla Suarez Navarro as well, but has reached the final four surrendering only one set and will face Sharapova in a rematch of the Wimbledon final.

A surprising element of this match was how well Errani, who was bidding to become the first Italian woman to reach the Aussie semifinals, attacked Kvitova's second serve at times. Kvitova must hit her second serve with more spin or racquet-head speed—or both—and manage her mood swings better than today. If she does, the top spot will be a launching pad to so much more.

Richard Pagliaro

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