Kvitova books Muguruza 2018 Doha rematch, Azarenka withdraws

Kvitova books Muguruza 2018 Doha rematch, Azarenka withdraws

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova edged into her third Qatar Total Open final in four years, overcoming in-form American Jessica Pegula to secure a rematch with Garbiñe Muguruza, who advanced after Victoria Azarenka withdrew.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova secured a third Qatar Total Open final in four years, hitting through windy conditions to subdue an in-form Jessica Pegula, 6-4, 6-4.

"I would love to know why I always play so well in Doha," she joked after the match." I would like to play this well everywhere, but of course, sometimes this is not easy. Overall, I like the conditions. The ball flies nicely. The court is a little slower, but I have good rhythm for it."

Kvitova will take on Garbiñe Muguruza in a rematch of their 2018 final in Doha after former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka withdrew from the second semifinal due to the back injury she incurred during her quarterfinal on Thursday. Just shy of her 31st birthday, the No. 4 seeded-Kvitova appears in pole position to win her first WTA title since 2019, reeling off the final four games against the American to advance in under 90 minutes on Center Court.

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"Just being in the final, for me, first of all, is great. We’ve played against Garbiñe many times already, including a final in 2018 here, which was a roller-coaster. I know that she’s really in great form and playing really well. We will see, but it will be a nice match, for sure. We play similar games, so it will likely be about a few points, like it was in the past."

The Czech played Pegula for the first time at the US Open last summer, but the 27-year-old has vastly improved since then, surging into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal to start the 2021 season in Melbourne.

Crediting that match against Kvitova with boosting her belief against the best in the world, Pegula gamely battled through qualifying in Doha and hadn’t drop a set in the main draw—dispatching Wang Qiang, former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and No. 2 seed Karolina Pliskova to reach the biggest semifinal of her career.

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"Already at the US Open, I thought she played great. Given the conditions, it’s tough to compare matches, and even to talk about tennis today at all! She’s improved a lot since last year, and is definitely playing really well. She definitely doesn’t seem like No. 44 in the rankings, which she showed here by beating Karolina and playing great matches at the Australian Open. She’ll really go up much higher in the rankings."

Between swirling winds and an inspired opponent, Kvitova hardly had things her own way from the outset, briefly falling behind after breaking to open the match, and emerged from a trio of service breaks to ultimately serve out the first set.

"When I see it’s windy, I just think to myself, ‘Oh no! It will be a tough day,’ and tough mentally, for sure. The opponents feel the same way; everyone likes smooth conditions with no sun or wind. It’s always the same on both sides for us, but even in the warm-up, I didn’t warm-up on the Center Court, it was even windier out on the grounds! At the beginning, we were still even but I was thinking, ‘This is impossible to play in,’ but somehow I was putting the ball in. It’s really tough because you have to really think about which way the wind is going, and you have to play a little bit smarter.

"A more consistent player will deal with the wind better, but there’s still a lot of adjustments. At one point, I didn’t see the ball, and it was right under my racquet but I didn’t even touch it. I thought, ‘Uh oh, that’s embarrassing!’ But that’s how it is; sometimes I can’t do anything, and I’m just putting the ball down the middle and waiting for my opportunities."

The second set saw Pegula take an even stronger stand, winning 12 of the first 14 points and shrugging off a break back to move within two games of a decider.

Kvitova regained her footing from there, clinching a crucial ninth game to break the qualifier and serve out her ticket to the final at love.

Her last encounter with Muguruza came on these very courts, with the former world No. 2 needing to rally from a set down to win her second of what would be four titles that season. Muguruza has begun 2021 in similarly strong form, backing up her runner-up finish at the Yarra Valley Classic with a titanic clash against eventual champion Naomi Osaka in Melbourne.

Muguruza and Kvitova last played at the Qatar Total Open final in 2018 (Getty Images)

"I remember I was down 5-0, and was feeling so tired from my previous matches here. I just found a way to fight for every point. I know it was windy then, as well!"

Despite the walkover from Azarenka, Muguruza has nonetheless endured tough opposition, dethroning defending champion Aryna Sabalenka and avenging an Abu Dhabi defeat to Maria Sakkari en route to her second final of the year.

Kvitova’s toughest clash came in the quarterfinals, where she navigated through a second set hiccup to overcome Estonian Anett Kontaveit, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

Though she bravely managed top seed Elina Svitolina 24 hours earlier, Azarenka suggested her body would decide whether she'd play Friday's semifinal against Muguruza, and unfortunately for fans, her lower back injury won out.

“The pain in my back that I experienced during yesterday's match has not gone away enough in order for me to be able to compete tonight," she said in a statement. "I am very appreciative of being awarded a wildcard to compete here this week, and I am looking forward to being back in Doha again next year."