It was no Monfils vs. Berdych, but this intriguing first-rounder featured a top Czech, a French player who's fallen from grace, and a bit of drama. Three years ago, Rezai entered the French Open as a popular dark-horse pick and local hope after winning the Madrid Open, her breakthrough performance that included victories over Justine Henin and Venus Williams. Rezai would go on to reach the third round at Roland Garros, losing 10-8 in the third to Nadia Petrova, and it's been tough sledding ever since, both on and off the court.
Kvitova has dealt with her own struggles since her tour de force two summers ago, when she won Wimbledon. The No. 1 ranking was within her grasp as recently as last January, but Kvitova has been plagued by inconsistency, frustrating fans and leaving her well behind Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Victoria Azarenka in the court of public opinion. Fortunes can change quickly in tennis, with these two hardly alone in that respect, though it should be said that Kvitova topped a strong field in Dubai earlier this year and nearly beat Serena in Doha, losing 7-5 in the third.
Both women showed why they've risen and fallen throughout this three-setter, which seventh-seeded Kvitova won, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2. Each won a set, then looked capable of taking and blowing the decider. Kvitova needed to save two break points in the third game of the third set, doing so with her serve both times. Rezai, who struggled mightily on her serve, then gave up a break of her own, but hit her way back in the following game to make it 2-3. An explosive forehand winner struck down the line should have rekindled memories of 2010, for those who haven't seen Rezai play since. She catapulted herself into the shot, using the time the slow surface afforded to her greatest advantage.
If you discount the errors—and there were plenty—this might end up being one of the best shotmaking exhibitions of the tournament. The ladies' two-handed backhands were picturesque and powerful, and Kvitova hit her own forehand winners on the level of the aforementioned Rezai rocket. But at times it was more ugly than pretty. Immediately after earning back the break, Rezai played a dreadful service game to fall behind 4-2, to which Kvitova replied by losing the first two points on her serve. One forehand in particular, struck well wide during an exchange no more intense than a warm-up rally, should have made Kvitova diehards spit out their coffee or Pilsner Urquell, depending on the time of day.
But that horrific shot turned out to be Kvitova's low point; she reined in her game quickly enough to hold for 5-2, then broke Rezai for the ninth time to end the match. In many close athletic contests, we say that whichever team/player has the ball last will win. It turned out to be the opposite in this match, compelling aside from the misses and 15 service breaks.