PARIS—It’s hard to imagine that there’s ever been a player who personifies the saying “feast or famine” as completely as Petra Kvitova. You basically know how the majority of points will end when she plays: Either with her hitting a winner, or with her making an error. The rally ball, the set-up shot, the change of pace: Forget them all, Kvitova is all-in, or all-out, virtually every time she swings.
Today, in her eventual 3-6, 6-2, 6-4 win over Yaroslava Shvedova, Kvitova started out starving. It wasn’t a bad sign in itself that she allowed Shvedova to hold in her first service game of the match. Rather, it was the way she lost it that made you think that bad things might be in store. On the last three points, Kvitova slugged three returns over the baseline. A few minutes later, she was down 3-0 and probably couldn’t have hit the broad side of a barn with a ground stroke if you’d asked her. Kvitova was so far off that, when she tried to knock the clay out of her shoes with her racquet, she swung and missed.
The feast for Kvitova began after she was broken to start the second set. That’s when, with the specter of defeat becoming more real, the misses became makes, the shanks turned to winners. The returns that had sailed earlier were now angled off beautifully, leaving Shvedova no chance to get into rallies, even on her own serve. When Kvitova leveled one last forehand winner to win the second set, it looked like she was on her way to a much-anticipated semifinal matchup with Maria Sharapova.
But if there’s anything you can count on with Kvitova, it’s that whenever you think things are going to go one way for her, that’s probably the moment when they’re going to swing in the opposite direction. That’s what happened, twice, in the third set. Kvitova went up 2-0, lost four straight games to go down 2-4, then turned around and swept the last four for the match. Shvedova’s head must have been spinning by the time she walked up for the handshake. The qualifier had done the best she could. She had done all she could, really, hanging in and hoping Kvitova’s missiles landed out. Shvedova showed off a kick serve with bite and an athletic all-around game, but she was at the mercy of her opponent today.
Kvitova hit 38 winners and made 32 errors; that’s 70 points that were decided on her racquet, compared to just 36 by Shvedova. Now the Czech gets that semifinal with Sharapova, a rematch of their strange semi in Australia, which Sharapova snuck away with in three sets. Sharapova’s form was better in the quarters than Kvitova’s, but as I said, just when you start thinking Petra’s going to go one way, there’s a good chance she’s about to go the other.