ISTANBUL, Turkey—Lefthanders have a played a significant role in the history of tennis: Think Connors, McEnroe, Navratilova, Seles, and Nadal.
The two most accomplished lefties on the WTA these days, Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber, faced off for the final semifinal spot in the WTA Championships on Friday night in front of the event's biggest crowd so far. Neither of them own Connors’ ferocious two-handed backhand, Johnny Mac’s wicked hook serve out wide, Seles’ blowtorch return, Navratilova’s artistry around the net, or Nadal’s footspeed, but they do possess compelling qualities in their game which made for a delicious clash. They were all put on display in Kvitova’s entertaining, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3 win, which launched her into a semifinal match against Li Na.
While Seles could crush her forehand, she hit it with two hands, and no other current female left-hander strikes it with the weight of Kvitova. That was the shot that won her the match, as she creamed 27 winners off her forehand side.
Kerber can nail her forehand, too, but her strengths lie in her movement, her very consistent backhand, and her defensive capabilities. Kvitova, on the other hand, is all about trying to generate big serves, getting a weak return—and then hammering her forehand, which she nail cross-court, down the line, or inside-out. She is also a very competent volleyer when she manages to get to the net, which she did fairly often in this contest, converting 30 of 38 approaches.
The two had played in the Tokyo final earlier this month; it was the first time two lefties had clashed in a WTA final since 2009. There, Kvitova took a 6-2, 0-6, 6-3 victory. Stylistically, their Istanbul match was not completely dissimilar to their Tokyo clash.
Kvitova came out firing early, serving with precision, launching big returns off Kerber’s spotty serve, and taking huge cuts with her massive forehand. She broke the German early, but was broken back to 4-3 when she overplayed a forehand.
The two matched bullets off the ground and went into a tiebreaker, where Kerber caught fire on her forehand side and Kvitova was largely sloppy, double faulting and then committing a return error before she headed to her chair.
But the enigmatic Czech loves playing indoors and quickly shook off her first-set blues, racing through the second set as Kerber lost control of her serve. Kvitova effectively stepped forward and pushed Kerber well off the court throughout the set.
The third set saw the two trade breaks to open the action, then Kvitova broke again to 2-1 when Kerber pushed a backhand long. Kerber tried to keep Kvitova off balance and string her out in long rallies, but she wasn’t keeping her rally balls deep enough, which gave her foe a chance to dictate. That Kvitova did, winning the two-hour, seven-minute contest when Kerber committed two backhand errors. The Czech ended the match with 47 winners and forced Kerber into 33 errors.
Kvitova won the 2011 WTA Championships on this very court, and despite being trounced by Serena Williams on Thursday, she is brimming with confidence after a fine fall season. She’ll face Li Na in the semis, who went undefeated in her group. The two are locked at 3-3 in their head-to-head match-ups, with Kvitova taking out China’s leading lady 6-4 in the third set in just a few weeks ago in the Beijing quarters.
That semifinal is a true pick 'em, but if Kvitova strikes her forehand against Li as well as she did against Kerber, her second final-round appearance in Istanbul is probable.