Australian Open: Kvitova d. Schiavone

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Petra Kvitova survived a tough opening-round test in the form of Francesca Schiavone, prevailing 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 to book a place in the second round.

This match was always going to be a contrast of styles—Kvitova’s flat, margin-less hitting against Schiavone’s tenacious court coverage and exaggerated spin—but for Kvitova, whose solid but unspectacular 2012 Grand Slam season underwhelmed many pundits, facing the 48th-ranked Schiavone would also have been a stark reminder of how quickly one major title can fade into irrelevance. The Czech’s dismal start to 2013—she lost her openers in Brisbane and Sydney—underlines the all-or-nothing nature of her game. Choppy and staccato at the best of times, it’s easy for a rapid-fire barrage of winners to descend into a string of unforced errors. Indeed, her tennis oscillated unpredictably from one to the other throughout today's contest.

The opening game, in which Schiavone double-faulted twice but held despite two break points, set the tone for a match in which both women struggled to be consistent on serve. Kvitova did a poor job of converting break points, ending five of 13 for the match, but she broke twice to lead 5-2 with the aid of fine returning off Schiavone’s soft second serve.

But finding any momentum was a continuing problem for Kvitova. Leading 30-0 and seeming to have found a simple, endlessly reproducible formula for winning points—big serving, then taking every opportunity to step into the court or close down the net—she double-faulted and erred herself into trouble, and was soon broken. Kvitova dug deep to serve the set out at the second time of asking, but Schiavone was making her work for everything.

Schiavone found a pattern of play that worked: She tempted Kvitova into backhand slice exchanges, then yanked her forward so she could flub low volleys into the net. Despite consistently poor serving, it worked well enough for Schiavone to take the second set. And after Schiavone escaped another break point in the opening game of the third set when Kvitova dumped an easy volley into the net, she had an opportunity to really rattle the eighth seed.

Instead, Schiavone double-faulted away the break, and although Kvitova continued to be bedevilled by unforced errors—she ended the match with an unimpressive 42, with 28 winners—she dragged enough fine sequences of groundstrokes out of herself to attain, then regain a double-break advantage, not an easy thing to do against Schiavone’s heavy spin and brilliant defensive slices.

There are obvious areas of concern for Kvitova—her volleying was particularly poor and she was far too easily flummoxed by Schiavone's slice—but it was a gritty performance against a tough and experienced opponent who did everything in her power to prevent the big hitter from occupying her favoured center-of-the-baseline territory. She will face an entirely different sort of challenge against either Melanie Oudin or Laura Robson in the second round.

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