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Kvitova exposes Fernandez's shortcomings in Paris with trademark power
The winners that pour off an in-form Kvitova’s racquet—a rolling crosscourt forehand, a rope of a down-the-line backhand, even deft play at the net—are among the more pleasing sights in tennis.
Published Oct 03, 2020
It hardly seems fair to call someone as likable as Petra Kvitova a rebel. But we must. In the course of earning a 7-5, 6-3 third-round victory over 100th-ranked Leylah Fernandez Saturday on Court Suzanne Lenglen, the seventh-seeded Kvitova once again defied the longstanding notion that a tennis player’s game is an extension of her personality.
Tales abound of Kvitova’s kindness and unpretentious nature. Exhibit A: the day after winning Wimbledon six years ago, Kvitova insisted on personally cleaning the house she and her team had rented for the fortnight. Yet grounded as Kvitova is off the court, when you watch her play, fasten your seatbelt and get ready for a bumpy ride. Call it The Kvitova Conundrum.
The first six games versus Fernandez were arguably messier than that Wimbledon home. Kvitova made one error after another, spraying balls wide, into the net and long, a heaping helping of mistakes that saw her fall behind by two breaks, 5-1. Down this far, Kvitova admitted that at this stage of the match she was merely hoping to find her rhythm and get organized for set two.
Kvitova’s woes didn’t happen in a vacuum. They were to some degree created by an opponent we will be seeing more frequently on tennis’ big stages. Junior champion at Roland Garros a year ago, Fernandez is an 18-year-old Canadian left-hander with a wide range of tools—including such pleasing intangibles as court sense and poise. She has a rare blend of precision and variety, fueled by the historic southpaw aptitude for seeing the ball sooner and the court differently than right-handers. Often, Fernandez moved forward into the court to pin Kvitova with sharply aimed groundstrokes and the occasional drop shot.
Fernandez also today conducted herself with a quiet determination—similar to the focus her fellow lefty Kvitova brings when she is keeping her tennis house in order. Even shortly after this frustrating loss, Fernandez remained clear that her future will only be better.
“Next time that we play against each other or next time that I play a top player like her in a Grand Slam, it will definitely be different,” said Fernandez. “I'll be playing a lot better, making less mistakes, being more of let's say a professional and follow my coach's game plan.”
Her pro-level game has only begun to ripen and it will be fascinating to see Fernandez take on such peers as Coco Gauff and Caty McNally.
Having rattled Kvitova, Fernandez held one set point at 5-1 and another at 5-3, but was unable to convert. To say Kvitova dug in would be inaccurate. Never confuse a striker with a grinder. With trademark power, Kvitova exposed shortcomings in the Canadian’s serve—in the first set, Fernandez only won 25 percent of her second serve points—and benefitted greatly when Fernandez double-faulted twice at 5-all, including at 30-40.
Bit by bit, Kvitova had eroded Fernandez’s lead and probably even surprised herself when the chance came to actually win that opener. As the pendulum swung, Kvitova began at last to find her happy place. The winners that pour off an in-form Kvitova’s racquet—a rolling crosscourt forehand, a rope of a down-the-line backhand, even deft play at the net—are among the more pleasing sights in tennis.
From 5-1 down, Kvitova won nine straight games to serve at 3-0 in the second. Fernandez hung in, breaking Kvitova to maintain a degree of competitive proximity. By this stage, though, the gap in experience and, most of all, firepower, was all too vivid. Having made 24 unforced errors in the torturous 73-minute first set, Kvitova halved that figure in set two and took a brisk 41 minutes to roll through the second. The lefty-lefty pattern also greatly tilted in Kvitova’s favor, most notably as she leaned on one forehand after another and repeatedly pinned Fernandez. After hitting 13 winners in the first set, Fernandez only struck six in the second.
Only once has Kvitova reached the semis at Roland Garros, a run that happened way back in 2012. “I’m not a clay player,” said Kvitova. “I grew up on the clay, but definitely there is more kind of specialists of the clay players here in the tournament.” Here again, the self-effacing Kvitova.
She next plays Zhang Shuai, a player Kvitova has beaten three of out of the five times they’ve played one another—they’ve split two on clay.
“I'm really glad that I can play her, Kvitova said. “She's really one of the nicest person here. Always say hi, always smiling, everything. I really like her. That's nice. I'm really happy that we can meet each other in the second week of the Grand Slams. That's perfect.”
Perhaps Kvitova’s kindness solves the mystery. There is no mystery. Mysteries often revolve around killers. To watch and listen to Kvitova begs a simple question: Why kill when you can simply play?