MELBOURNE—If you’re looking for a stat to sum up Petra Kvitova’s 6-2, 7-6 (2), fourth-round win over Ana Ivanovic here today, I’d consider beginning with this one: Kvitova’s average ground stroke was hit 15 kilometers per hour faster than Ivanovic’s. Whatever Ivanovic did, whether her ball toss was perfect or she was moving well or she was making clean contact or her fist-pumps and "Ajde"s were properly coordinated, she was still starting every rally at a disadvantage. She was in Petra’s rearview mirror, constantly trying to catch up.
For the first set and a half, this appeared to be a match that would hearten any Kvitova fan, while disheartening Ivanovic’s true believers. Kvitova’s slugging power was on full display, while Ivanovic spent much of the time hitting what one commentator described as “nothing” balls down the middle of the court. The thing is, those shots aren’t necessarily nothing balls against most of Ana’s opponents, but they were against this one.
At times, Kvitova’s returns were back at Ivanovic’s feet before she had finished her service motion. The Czech consistently kept her shots deeper and closer to the sidelines. Even when Ivanovic got a good crack at the ball, Kvitova was rarely troubled. She took one full-throttle Ivanovic forehand and short-hopped a backhand past her into the corner. By the second set, Ivanovic was forced to go for more whenever she had a chance. She made unforced errors, but in a sense they were forced. She had no choice but to take more risks than she normally would.
As we’ve already learned from Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka, Li Na, and Kim Clijsters, closing a match is a different story at this tournament so far. And it was for Kvitova. Up 5-3, with Ivanovic serving at break point, Kvitova came in to knock off a sitting duck overhead at the net. She whiffed. The crowd laughed, but Kvitova just put her head down and walked off, with a slight look of mortification.
She might have been better off laughing with the audience and getting it out of her system. As it was, she still looked mortified when she came back on to try to serve it out at 5-4, and she played like it. Kvitova, a sure winner all day, dropped the next two games at love, and when she went down in her service game at 5-6, the match appeared to be turning into a re-run of yesterday’s Clijsters-Li rollercoaster. Rather than a heartening day for Kvitova and her fans, it had turned into another warning sign. She had that hollow-eyed look of panic that she gets when she’s lost her game.
But Kvitova was still starting ahead in the rallies, and she righted herself just in time, acing Ivanovic at game point to send the set to a tiebreaker. Then she got some help from Ivanovic, who double-faulted on her first two points of the breaker, killing any momentum she may have built.
The good news for Kvitova, who awaits the winner of Jie Zheng and Sara Errani in the quarters, is that the matches remain on her racquet. Unfortunately, that’s kind of the bad news, too.