DOHA – Big-hitting Czech Petra Kvitova used her lethal return of serve and ground strokes to upset Australian world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty on Friday at the Qatar Ladies Open, overcoming a second-set hiccup to win 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.
Kvitova put Barty under pressure from the beginning with a series of return-of-serve blasts that did not allow her opponent to establish any rhythm from the baseline.
Consistently dictating play, the Czech won the first set on the strength of winners and forced backhand errors off the racket of the Australian.
The tenor of the match, however, changed dramatically at the start of the second set, with Barty using her backhand slice and variety to devastating effect.
Kvitova asserted control once again though in the decider and came up with winners in the clutch, particularly in the eighth game when she rallied from 15-30 to hold serve and take a 5-3 lead.
Afterward, the two-time Wimbledon champion talked about how she got the momentum back on her side in the third set.
“It was kind of physical. I think Ash started to play more slices in the beginning of the second set, so it took me a while to get used to and be back in my game with my aggressive game, which I tried to play in the first set,” Kvitova said.
“The match was pretty exhausting … I know that I can’t play those rallies every point, but if I have to I’m really glad that I’m able to do it.”
The 29-year-old Kvitova now has a 5-4 career record against Barty but had lost four matches in a row to the Australian heading into Friday’s semifinal in Doha, including a straight-set defeat in this year’s Australian Open quarterfinals.
Next up for the 11th-ranked Czech in the final will be 13th-ranked Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who also relied on big serves and ground strokes to power her way past Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-3 in Friday’s first semifinal.
The 21-year-old Sabalenka is known for her power and quick-strike tennis, but she said greater patience and a willingness to compete in the long rallies has been a key for her this week.
“I think I’m moving better and I’m trying to stay in the longer points,” she added. “I’m actually not afraid to play long points and I’m enjoying it.”
Kvitova is seeking her second title at the Qatar Ladies Open – a Premier 5 event that is one of the 10 biggest hard-court events on the WTA calendar – and sixth Premier 5 title.
Sabalenka is trying to capture her first Qatar Ladies Open title and third Premier 5 title (2018 and 2019 Wuhan Open).