TC DESK: Kvitova on reaching her 40th tour-level final

You didn’t need to watch the points or see the score to know that the semifinal in Cincinnati between Petra Kvitova and Madison Keys was heating up late in the third set. All you had to do was listen, as the post-post-rally shrieks from the two women kept rising in intensity—not to mention pitch and volume.

When Kvitova saved a break point while serving at 4-3, she bent down and erupted with her traditional war cry: “POJD!”

When Keys squandered another break point in the same game, she let fly with a piercing “AaaayyYYYY!!!”

Finally, when Kvitova clinched that crucial hold to put herself one game from victory, she responded with an even louder and longer “Pojd!”

“It was an incredible battle,” was how Kvitova described her 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-3 win.

No one, including, Kvitova, was surprised that the match was close, and that the momentum veered from one side of the net to the other. She and Keys had played eight times, and each had won four. Game-wise, they’re also very similar. Both are tall—Kvitova is 6-feet, Keys 5’10”—both hit as hard as any player, on either tour, from the ground, and both are walking definitions of the term “hit or miss.” A blazing winner might be followed by a ball that sails 10 feet long; a flawless set might be followed by an error-strewn one. Neither Kvitova nor Keys waste a lot of time with rally balls; they’re looking to put it away as soon as they can. The fact that it doesn’t work out on one point isn’t going to stop from them from firing away on the next.

“I think it will be a nice battle, for sure,” Kvitova said before the match, “So I’m looking forward.”

But this “nice battle” ended up having an extra edge to it, because neither woman has been at her best in recent seasons, and both of them understand that you have to make of most of those weeks when everything suddenly clicks. Keys, 27, and Kvitova, 32, are ranked No. 24 and 28 respectively now, but in Cincy they had played like their old Top 10 selves. Kvitova had beaten No. 5 seed Ons Jabeur 6-0 in a third set, while Keys was too much for world No. 1 Iga Swiatek and Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina.


Kvitova is looking to become the third active WTA player to win 30 singles titles, after Serena and Venus Williams.

Kvitova is looking to become the third active WTA player to win 30 singles titles, after Serena and Venus Williams.

The ninth edition of Kvitova-Keys didn’t turn out to be the roller-coaster many of us expected. Keys won the first set 8-6 in a tiebreaker, but then Kvitova spent the next two sets slowly turning the rallies and the score in her favor. It wasn’t easy, because, statistically at least, she didn’t play all that well. She made just 56 percent of her first serves and had 10 double faults. Keys hit four more winners than Kvitova (28 to 24) and committed four fewer errors (12 to 16).

All of which made Kvitova’s tenacity and opportunism, her ability to find the corners when she needed to, that much more impressive. She began with a backhand return winner to break at 1-1 in the second set. She was broken back while erving at 5-2, but she settled back down and held at 5-4 with a forehand winner. She broke again early in the third, and then fought through a series of tough holds. The toughest came at 4-3, when she went down 0-40, before getting some help from Keys, who missed two second-serve returns. Kvitova didn’t give in there, and or in the final game. At deuce, Keys hit a big first serve, only to see Kvitova hit a bigger return that came right back at her—and knocked her down. It was a fitting ending to a premier WTA slugfest.

“I have no idea how I came back,” Kvitova said. “In the beginning of the match I lost my serve like with the three double faults, and it wasn't really good.”

“I just stayed there and tried to play until the end of every point what I could.”

Afterward, tears started to flow.

“Mentally, it was so tough,” she said, “then it was over, and everything came out.”

“I don't think that I experience so many matches like this, to be honest,” she said. “I mean, we didn't really miss.”

Over the last past two years, Kvitova may have wondered if there would be moments like this again for her. She wasn’t going to let this moment, and this chance, pass her by.

“That’s why I’m playing tennis, to be in the final, and fight for the trophy,” she said.