Istanbul: S. Williams d. Kvitova
This was going to be the match to watch at the WTA Championships. The last time Serena Williams had played Petra Kvitova, in Doha in February, the Czech had led 4-1 in the third set only to lose a hard-hitting thriller 7-5. Even the winner had broken down in tears that day. There was a sense in Istanbul that if any woman could take it to Serena, it was going to be Kvitova.
Half of our intuition was correct—unfortunately, it was the half about Serena having no competition. She won in ultra-routine fashion on Thursday, 6-2, 6-3. Kvitova didn’t play horribly; she hit 17 winners, made 73 percent of her first serves, won seven of 10 points at net, and earned four break points. But she didn't convert any of those break chances, and never threatened to make it a match. In both sets, she was down 1-4 in what seemed like a heartbeat.
As for Serena, she continued her efficient ways in Istanbul. She hit 27 winners against 13 errors, 11 aces against two double faults, and was five for five at net. She made 61 percent of her first serves—not a stunning number, but it's a winning one for Serena right now. She anticipated Kvitova’s serve and knocked her returns back deep. She hit her strokes cleanly and didn’t pull up on them, the way she does when she gets tight. And she maintained the right mix of aggression and margin. Serena made it look easy.
I mentioned in a post this morning my concern that when Victoria Azarenka struggles, as she is right now, and Maria Sharapova sits on the sidelines, as she has since August, the WTA loses its competitive edge at the top—it becomes all about Serena, with no opposition in sight. Kvitova’s performance today only drove that point home further. She didn’t play poorly, but she didn’t challenge Serena, either. Given a hanging forehand, Petra often sent it skimming wide or into the net. Those were shots she would have made against anyone else; against Serena, she pressed and missed.
Who is going to step forward and make the shots against Serena that Kvitova missed today? We’re probably going to have to wait until next year to find out. Or maybe the year after that. For now, Kvitova plays Angelique Kerber next; the winner advances to the semis, the loser goes on vacation. Serena is already in the semis, as the No. 1 seed from the Red Group. She played six round-robin sets and won them all.