No. 8 of '17: Venus outlasts Kvitova in their latest feel-good classic

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Petra Kvitova threw the kitchen sink at Venus Williams, but it wasn't enough in their US Open showdown. (AP)

With 2017 nearing its close, it's time to decide what was the year's best match. Steve Tignor will relive his top 10 contests over the next two weeks—but which was your favorite? We want to know, so vote for your favorite match in our poll.

Tennis Channel will air the Top 3 matches with the most votes on December 31, in full.


Venus Williams d. Petra Kvitova 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (2), US Open quarterfinals

In the old days, before the Open era, the pros used to climb into their station wagons and set out on two-player barnstorming tours around the country. Night after night, in gym after gym, the same pair would unroll a canvas court and do battle. It sounds, frankly, like a reporter’s nightmare. Are there any two players you would want to watch face off 50 straight times?

Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova are well on their way to answering that question. These two women can’t seem to play a bad match against each other. Coming into their quarterfinal at the US Open this year, the American and the Czech had played six times, and all six times they’d gone to a third set. The previous three had ended either in a third-set tiebreaker, or 7-5 in the third. Their most recent encounter, at Wimbledon in 2014, was one of the best of that season, a taut, tense, mesmerizing affair between two power players hurling thunderbolts across Centre Court.

So expectations were high when Williams and Kvitova walked out for this night-session affair. Not only did the match itself promise fireworks, Venus and Kvitova had made themselves into two of the feel-good stories of the season. At 37, Venus had reached two Grand Slam finals. Eight months after being attacked in her home, Kvitova had come roaring back to beat Garbiñe Muguruza in the previous round.


HIGHLIGHTS:


In the early going, though, it seemed that expectations might be a little too high, as both women struggled to settle down in the unsettled atmosphere in Arthur Ashe Stadium. Venus began sluggishly, but instead of taking advantage, Kvitova slammed the door in her own face with a series of wild errors at the end of the set.

They call her P3tra for a reason, though, and she made one of her trademark 180s in the second set, as her timing, and the power that inevitably flows from it, began to click. Kvitova, screaming “POJD!” in all caps after virtually every winner, had arrived, and so had her all-important lefty serve. Venus reached break point five times in the second set, but Kvitova, using her hook delivery to maximum effect, saved them all. She would save eight of 11 break points on the night. And to another third set she would go.

In the decider, it looked as if Kvitova’s serve would continue to make the difference, especially when she used it to find her way out of a 0-40 hole to go up 3-1. By then, though, Venus had established herself as the more effective player from the baseline; all she needed was a break. Or, as it turned out, all she needed was to watch as Kvitova broke herself. The Czech obliged at 3-2, with three errors and a double fault. Now Williams and Kvitova were exactly where we’d hoped they would be: Neck and neck coming around the final turn.

The six-game dash to the finish line was a thrill. Each woman found her range, left her nerves behind, and played clean tennis. The high point came with Venus serving at 4-4. Just when it looked as if Kvitova might take the upper hand, Venus prevailed in a long game, and celebrated with that rarest of rarities for her, a fist-pump.

She must have known something. In the deciding tiebreaker, Venus showed everyone why she had experienced such a renaissance in 2017. For years, she had lost matches exactly like this one, when she seemed to have them won. Twelve months earlier at the Open, she had lost a third-set tiebreaker to another Czech bomber, Karolina Pliskova. But in 2017 Venus was 10-1 in tiebreakers, and she stayed steady enough against Kvitova to make that 11-1. In the end, Kvitova’s forehand went haywire one too many times. She was ready for one big win in New York, but not two.

Afterward, Venus mused about how these moments kept her going, and made retirement, even at 37, feel like a far-off proposition.

“These big matches, there have been times where I’ve won, and there have been times I didn’t win them,” she said. “My opponent was better. It made me go out and work harder. Either way, the experience makes you grow.”

For Venus and Kvitova, who are so evenly matched, finding a tiny edge over the other is especially satisfying—satisfying enough, in Venus’s case, to make her want to play forever.

“There is a point where you say, ‘I’m not ever letting this go,’” Venus said. “That’s kind of what I felt like out there.”

If Venus and Kvitova played a match each day, we might not want to stop watching, either.


 
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