NEW YORK—Marion Bartoli vs. Petra Kvitova, on paper, seemed to be a recipe for tennis at its wackiest and most unpredictable. Bartoli, she of the wide eyes, the hyperactive rituals, and the unorthodox style, took care of the former; Kvitova, she of the brilliant game that’s always just a few points from disaster, represented the latter. Their 2-2 head-to-head to record only made it harder to venture a guess as to what might happen when they met on the Grandstand Sunday night.
What happened first was that Kvitova stomped on Bartoli. In a 31-minute, 6-1 first set, her serve was too strong and her ground strokes too heavy and imperious. By the middle of the set, Bartoli was trying daredevil charges to the net, only to be passed. Kvitova came in after a strong summer, in which she won the US Open Series, and she seemed ready to extend that winning form tonight.
But as we’ve seen many times, the minute you make an assumption about Kvitova is the minute when she blows that assumption to pieces. This time it happened early in the second set, when her serve was broken and the dynamics of the rallies turned. Credit Bartoli for making them turn. If anything, she was even more wildly and expressively determined than ever. She brought out the Glare early in the second set, and the winners followed. Now she was on top of the points and reading Kvitova’s serve. Up 4-2, with Kvitova serving, Bartoli drilled two perfect returns into the corners to break. She had entered the zone, and she wouldn’t leave it again. When she won the second set a few minutes later, Bartoli sprinted to the sideline. When the third started, she sprinted back on court.
She kept sprinting through a third set that bore more than a passing resemblance to the fifth set that Lukas Rosol played against Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. Glaring, dancing, first-pumping to each corner of the court, and belting winners past a helpless Kvitova, Bartoli played like a woman possessed—seriously, it looked like something had overtaken her. The only hint of trouble came when she was serving at 1-0. Kvitova made a push, hitting a forehand winner and a backhand winner to go up 15-40. But Bartoli saved the two break points with a service winner and an ace. When she won the game with an overhead, she let out a fearsome “Come on!” She must have been listening to herself, because in the next game she hit three more return winners to break again.
By the end of the set, Bartoli had it all going; even fortune was under her command. She finished her next service game with a topspin lob winner, and broke for 5-0 on a net cord backhand that dropped over. Kvitova’s summer run was over, and all Bartoli had to do to complete the 1-6, 6-2, 6-0 win was hold serve—and fist-pump to all four corners of the court as she did it. Mission accomplished on both counts. She plays the winner of Sharapova and Petrova next. Whoever it is, she might want to order an exorcism on Bartoli before the match.