INDIAN WELLS, CALIF.—“I just need to be there. I just need to be thinking fast.”
That was Maria Kirilenko yesterday, describing what she needed to do to beat Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals here. The Russian had just finished winning her third three-set match of the week and upsetting Agnieszka Radwanska in the process. She had approximately 17 hours to get ready to play Kvitova in the sweltering heat today. Few would have given her a chance of beating the higher-ranked Czech.
By the middle of the second set, that few had likely dwindled to none, perhaps including Kirilenko herself. She had received a medical timeout to have left leg taped, and Kvitova, who led her by a set and 4-2, was having her way in the rallies from the first ball on. That was to be expected. As Kirilenko said, she had to be ready for the Kvitova groundstroke onslaught; but no matter fast Kirilenko reacted, her only real hope was that Kvitova would miss those ground strokes. From 3-4 down in the first set, though, Kvitova hadn’t missed much of anything. She battered Kirilenko’s first and second serves with equal ease, and none of the Russian’s attempts to change the pace, none of her slices or moonballs, did much to change that.
But this is Petra Kvitova, and it was a very hot day on an outdoor court. That combination meant that, at some point along the way, there would have to be a hiccup. At some point, the bombs that landed just inside the lines would begin to land just outside of them. At some point, she would lose confidence. At some point, if Kirilenko could keep her out there long enough, she would begin to wilt. All of those things began to happen at 4-2 in the second set, and Kvitova was powerless to stop the downhill slide from there. At 4-5, she double faulted four times to lose the set. And she double-faulted again to be broken at 3-4 in the third. It looked like, mentally and physically, she had melted.
Credit Kirilenko for rebounding so quickly from one of the biggest wins of her career. While she was helpless in the face of Kvitova’s best shots, she did what she said she needed to do: She reacted well to the hard-hit balls that she could get, particularly with her forehand return of serve. And while she has struggled to close out matches in the past, including yesterday’s against Radwanska, she had no troubles today, pushing forward to the net at match point and forcing a tired-looking Kvitova to move, and miss one last forehand long for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 win.
“Finally," Kirilenko said afterward. You could understand her choice of words. This was her first trip to the semifinals in Indian Wells in a decade's worth of attempts. She’ll try to keep her magical week alive against the winner of tonight’s quarterfinal between Maria Sharapova and Sara Errani.