In-form Naomi Osaka outlasted Petra Kvitova in a three-set marathon for a drought-breaking victory at the WTA Finals on Sunday.
Opening the $14 million round-robin tournament, the first in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, the world No.3 regrouped from several lethargic stretches to win 7-6 (7/1), 4-6, 6-4 in two hours and 39 minutes.
It was the Japanese sensation’s first victory at the WTA Finals after a winless campaign in her debut appearance last year and stretched her current winning streak to 11 matches having claimed titles in Osaka and Beijing.
“She started going hard at me from the beginning and I just had to adjust to it,” Osaka said after the match.
In a rematch of this year’s tense Australian Open final, world No.6 Kvitova came out with intent until she stuttered in the eighth game of the opening set with three double faults to squander the game.
Osaka held off two break points in the ninth game before dominating the tiebreak to draw first blood.
It seemed to shake the Czech’s confidence but Kvitova, the oldest player in the draw, impressively clawed back in the second set and took advantage of an error-strewn Osaka who several times slammed her racquet in frustration.
A refocused Osaka put the foot down in the deciding set but could not convert two match points in the eighth game before finally closing it out in the 10th to issue a statement to her rivals in Red Group.
The 22-year-old maintained her unbeaten record over Kvitova having won their only previous clash in a three-set classic in Melbourne.
The event’s move to China, after a five-year run in Singapore, is highlighted by a record prize pool in tennis with the winner receiving up to $4.725 million.
World number three Petra Kvitova said she had found her rhythm on clay after winning her second WTA title of the season in Stuttgart on Sunday, a month before the start of the French Open.
The Czech star beat Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit 6-3, 7-6 (7/2) in the final, succeeding compatriot Karolina Pliskova as champion at the clay-court event.
A two-time Wimbledon champion and runner-up at the Australian Open in January, Kvitova will be chasing her third career major at Roland Garros next month and said she had found her clay court feet with the triumph in Stuttgart.
“It was tougher at the beginning of the week when I played my first and second match. I said that I would need a bit more matches to get used to the clay,” said Kvitova whose best run at Roland Garros was a semi-final spot in 2012.
“Since then I think I’ve really found a good rhythm. There were ups and downs today as well, and I really had to push myself to play more aggressively.
“I was glad to hit a forehand winner down the line on match point.”
Kvitova battled through a tough second set to beat eighth seed Kontaveit, who reached the final on a walkover after world number one Naomi Osaka pulled out of the semi-final with an abdominal injury on Saturday.
Kontaveit said that Kvitova was a “role model” after the final, but Czech joked that she didn’t feel like one.
“I don’t think anyone would want to copy the way I move,” she laughed.
Kvitova thanked the fans as well as her coaches who did not join her in Stuttgart this week.
“It was amazing to see the arena full every day,” she said. “I always like to come back to Stuttgart.”
“My coaches were not actually here, so I’m looking forward to seeing them again.”
Having won the Sydney International in January, Kvitova is the first woman to win two titles in 2019, after all of the first 18 WTA competitions of the year were won by different players.
“I was just glad to be in the final because I have never got past the semi-finals here,” said Kvitova. “Winning the title is a big bonus.”
Former titleholders Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep battled through brisk desert winds to advance into the quarter-finals of the Dubai Championships on Wednesday.
Second seed Kvitova, now the highest-ranked player remaining in the field after the surprise elimination of Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka, outlasted American qualifier Jennifer Brady 7-5, 1-6, 6-3.
Crowd favourite and third seed Halep supported even in the middle of a workday by scores of chanting, enthusiastic local Romanian fans, beat Lesia Tsurenko of the Ukraine 6-3, 7-5, breaking seven times from 10 chances.
The challenger managed just a single point over the last three games as former number one Halep demonstrated her superiority by winning her seventh in the series without a loss.
Slovak Viktoria Kuzmova reached a 2019 last-eight place for the second time this season after Auckland through a 1-6, 7-5, 6-2 defeat of American Sofia Kenin.
Kvitova, who won the Dubai trophy in 2013, admitted that she came into the week somewhat unprepared, last playing on the WTA in a St Petersburg quarter-final a fortnight ago.
“When I came here, I didn’t really have many days of practice, to be honest,” the two-time Wimbledon winner said.
“I had something different to do in my life. I wasn’t really that prepared for this tournament.
“But I’m happy I was able to get two wins. It’s great when you’re not playing your best and you still find a way to win.”
The gusty conditions were testing inside the stadium at the Aviation Club which 2015 Dubai holder Halep managed to control as she rolled over Tsurenko.
Petra Kvitova admitted her desire for a third Wimbledon title had left her a bag of nerves as the Czech star suffered a stunning Wimbledon first round exit.
Kvitova was the bookmakers’ favourite to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish at the All England Club after an impressive return to form this year.
But the 28-year-old was beaten 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 by unheralded Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich on Tuesday.
Kvitova’s early exit was especially surprising given she had won five titles in 2018, including the grass-court tournament at Birmingham last weekend, while amassing a WTA Tour-leading 38 match victories.
But eighth seed Kvitova, who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, revealed her burning desire to take another Grand Slam title had been her undoing against world number 50 Sasnovich.
“I’m sad. I wanted to win very badly, maybe too much. The nerves were there again. I just tried to kind of fight with myself,” she said.
“Probably I was the biggest opponent I could have. I didn’t really have a clear mind. I was thinking a little bit too much.
“Of course, the hand is not moving as easily as it should be, so I’m tight. I didn’t move that well either.
“I think I didn’t really care that much (about winning) before. I do care now. So, yeah, probably that’s why.”
It was another Grand Slam setback for Kvitova, who has gone out before the quarter-finals in five of her six appearances at the majors since returning to action following the horrific stabbing that derailed her career in 2016.
The knife attack had Kvitova’s home left severe lacerations to all four fingers on her playing hand.
Kvitova conceded she feels extra pressure to play her best at Wimbledon after her past success and that had contributed to her collapse when she felt the Sasnovich match slipping away.
“Probably in Wimbledon it’s a little bit more than the other Grand Slams because obviously, I know I can play well,” she said.
“But it is how it is. Yeah, I think it’s the worst one.
“I think the worst pressure is in the first rounds, second rounds, and third rounds. After that it’s fine.”
Despite her defeat, Kvitova was actually in a light-hearted mood when she faced the media and she said that was because she still had such happy memories of Wimbledon.
“Anyway, I think I already won the biggest match here, so that’s probably why I’m smiling,” she added.
Sasnovich’s reward for the best result of her career is a second-round clash with American Taylor Townsend.
“It was good but I can play better. Probably I deserved it today,” Sasnovich said after closing out the win with consecutive aces.
“I was just warming up when the score was 5-0 in the final set. I could have played one more match!”
Czech Petra Kvitova beat Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza in the US Open fourth round on Sunday while Venus Williams beat Carla Suarez Navarro.
Kvitova found herself 4-1 down in the first set before turning it around with strong serves and a powerful forehand, eventually taking the set in the tie-break.
Petra Kvitova said: “So many people who follow the sport know what you’ve been through, how would you describe the journey from last December to a moment like this?”)
“I don’t think that I can find the right words, I mean it was a difficult time, all five months were very very tough and you know it was just a journey which I didn’t know how the journey will end, and if it’s ending here on the big stage it’s just a happy end.”
Muguruza struggled with Kvitova’s aggressive style and the Czech, who plays in her first US Open since seriously injuring her playing hand in a knife attack at her home last December, won the second set 6-3.
Williams, who plays Kvitova in the next round, won the first set before seeing Navarro fight back to win the second, but took control of the game in the third set, taking it comfortably.
Williams said: “Now 19 (wins) and 3 (losses) in majors this year. You talk about it often, what is it about the biggest stages that brings out your best?”)
“I think Billie Jean King put it best: ‘Pressure is privilege’. I need a challenge, I love the pressure, and especially as this is the last major and it’s at home, there’s no better feeling than the energy in here at Ashe (stadium) when you guys go wild. I mean do you hear that, that energy, I’m like: ‘alright, I’ve gotta do something, I gotta hit an ace, I gotta hit a winner, something’s gotta happen’. I love it here.”