If you’re a tennis fan, and you’re like me, the clip above will make you wonder, “How did I miss this match?” Petra Kvitova’s 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-4 win over Angelique Kerber in Prague clinched the Czech Republic’s third Fed Cup title in four years. But unlike Switzerland’s much-celebrated Davis Cup win, the Czechs’ dynastic achievement didn’t generate many headlines in the United States. The weekend of the final, I searched in vain for a broadcast time for it on the Tennis Channel.
Germany’s loss was our loss, too, because judging from the highlights here, this may have been the most fiercely contested match of 2014. You had two Top 10 lefties, a slugger vs. a retriever, a huge momentum change in each set, and one very loud and happy sell-out crowd of 13,400 in attendance. The Kvitova-Kerber match-up even has a single-name moniker than any tennis fan can appreciate: Petrangeli.
Afterward, Kvitova described the charged atmosphere in the O2 Arena perfectly: “It was always a big fight about every single point,” she said. Here’s a look at that big fight, which is also TENNIS.com's ninth best match of 2014, and possibly the best one you never saw.
—The clip begins with Kvitova in full, powerful flow, pummeling Kerber with the most blatant of winners. When she’s in this kind of mood, she can make a fellow Top Tenner look like a rank beginner; here Kvitova hit 48 winners in the first two sets alone. Of course, she's also prone to mood swings. Watching this video, and thinking about Kvitova's runaway win in the Wimbledon final this year, I wondered whether motivation isn’t the real key to making her more consistent. When she feels like she has to win, she can sustain a high level, as evidenced by her play in Fed Cup in recent years. Just as these thoughts were crossing my mind, naturally, Kvitova blows a 3-0 lead in the second set to Kerber and goes down 0-3 in the third. Even in the Fed Cup final, with everything on the line, there’s just no getting away from P3tra.
Still, it seems that motivation was key for Kvitova in Prague.
“Wimbledon was totally different,” she said after the Fed Cup was won. “I didn’t have this emotion. I was playing so well during Wimbledon, but here it was really up and down....It’s for your country, but always when you are not feeling great and you don’t have enough energy, you always find something and I’m not sure where I found it. I’m glad that I found it.”
—Yesterday I described David Ferrer as a litmus test of ATP excellence—the best players can beat him, the second-best can’t. Kerber often plays a similar role for the WTA. A consistent quarterfinalist and semifinalist, you pretty much know what you’re going to get from her. She’ll give you a chance to beat her, but she’s not going to do it for you. Here, like Kvitova, she rises to the occasion; she does her retrieving, but she also maneuvers the Czech out of position and opens up the court for her own winners.
Kerber is a player who needs to be seen live. Up close you can appreciate her speed, her flexibility, her improv, and the knee-busting labor she puts into every rally. But there doesn't seem to be much she can do to make her serve better, and it kills her again in this match. Kvitova has 14 break points in the first set alone.
—You know Petra is into it when she lets out a guttural, low-voiced version of her infamous, blood-curdling, “Pojd!” shriek. Like Federer in the last set of his own clinching Davis Cup win, Kvitova is soaring by the end of this one. I’m not sure I’ve seen her serve as well, or as hard, as she does on a couple of points in the final game. And when she steps forward to hit a crosscourt forehand winner in that game, it feels like the energy in the arena is about to lift her off the court.
Can Kvitova take that energy with her in 2015? That’s not how it went the last time she won Wimbledon and the Fed Cup in the same year, in 2011. What matters at the moment, though, is the way she finished 2014, with another Cup for her country, in a match that was the season's best-kept secret.
The Top 10 Matches of 2014
No. 1: Djokovic d. Federer at Wimbledon
No. 2: Sharapova d. Halep at Roland Garros
No. 3: Kvitova d. V. Williams at Wimbledon
No. 4: S. Williams d. Wozniacki at WTA Finals
No. 5: Wawrinka d. Djokovic at Australian Open
No. 6: Murray d. Robredo at Valencia
No. 7: Federer d. Wawrinka at ATP World Tour Finals
No. 8: Federer d. Monfils at U.S. Open
No. 9: Kvitova d. Kerber at Fed Cup
No. 10: Nishikori d. Ferrer at Madrid