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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, March 31, 2023


Petra Kvitova saved set points rallying past Sorana Cirstea 7-5, 6-4 into a Miami Open final of Wimbledon champions vs. Elena Rybakina.

Photo credit: Robert Prange/Getty

MIAMI—Petra Kvitova knows the twists and turns of the tennis journey more than most.

So when Kvitova was staring down a couple of set points in today's Miami Open semifinal, she didn't panic.

Eyes locked on the spinning yellow ball, Kvitova revved up her racquet and accelerated through a committed comeback.

Kvitova saved two set points stopping Sorana Cirstea 7-5, 6-4 to advance to her first Miami Open final in her 99th career WTA 1000 appearance.

It is Kvitova's 41st career final and sets up a stirring showdown of Wimbledon champions for the title tomorrow.

"I know that she had a 40-15 for serving out the set. I just put two kind of good returns to the court," Kvitova said of her set-point saves. "She missed a little bit, as well.

"I think everything paid off afterwards, and then I kept the momentum from my side and I served better. So that was for sure the key, because she was serving, I mean, whole match very good. It was difficult."

Two-time Wimbledon winner Kvitova will play for a 30th career championship—second only to Venus Williams among active women—when she faces reigning Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina in Saturday's title match.

Indian Wells champion Rybakina, who knocked off Jessica Pegula 7-6(3), 6-4, on Thursday night, is playing to complete the Sunshine Double.

The final figures to be a first-strike shootout.

They've split two career meetings with Kvitova winning 6-3, 7-5 in Adelaide in January to avenge a 7-6(5), 6-4 loss to Rybakina in the 2022 Ostrava quarterfinals.

"She's playing very good, winning Indian Wells, returning here in the final," Kvitova said of Rybakina. "For sure it's a great achievement.

"She's a big hitter, big server as well. I'm the same. It's depends really how we are gonna handle the pressure from the opponent."

In tomorrow's rematch, Rybakina believes the court conditions should suit her game better.

"Against Petra I played in the beginning of the year, and she played really well, but it was much faster courts there," Rybakina said. "I think it's gonna be different if I play against her again, but for sure it's a lot physically, because here the courts are quite slow, especially after I think rain.

"When it's that humid, it's not easy."

It's not easy to answer when Kvitova is hooking her lefty forehand crosscourt to push opponents into the doubles alley then crashing the down the line drive the opposite direction.

Dictating play with her lefty side-spinning serve and first-strike skills, Kvitova was staring down set points and a 3-5 deficit when she turned this semifinal around.

At the outset, Cirstea was striking shots with more self-assurance and had good success belting her flat forehand down the line. The Romanian sometimes pounced out of a low crouch using her legs to help absorb the stings of Kvitova's shots.

The world No. 74 served for the first set at 5-3 and earned a pair of set points. Kvitova cranked some deep drives to deny both set points. 

The left-hander's forehand was landing with damaging effect as Kvitova hit down the line daggers to break back for 4-5.

The two-time Wimbledon winner breezed through a love hold leveling after 10 games.

A free-flowing Kvitova was smacking flat shots into both corners pushing Cirstea into defensive positions. Kvitova streaked through 10 straight points, stamping successive love games for 6-5.

Kvitova's coach, Jiri Vanek, wearing a green Miami Dolphins baseball cap to ward off the afternoon sun, had to like the aggression his player was producing at crunch time.

Turning the tables, Kvitova reeled off five games in a row sealing the 58-minute comeback set with a defiant scream when Cirstea's drive died in net. Kvitova hit 17 winners—six more than Cirstea
in the opening set.

Trying to slow the Czech's roll, Cirstea was tossing in some slice backhands to try to change the pace.

A dialed-in Kvitova took her two-hander down the line breaking for her sixth straight game to start the second set.

Sliding her low slice serve out wide, Kvitova created open space and zapped forehands into the corners confirming the break at 15 for a 2-0 second-set lead.

Credit Cirstea for saving break points to stop her seven-game slide and get on the scoreboard, but there was no detour for Kvitova's damaging drives once she got her game rolling.

An impressive aspect of Kvitova's first Miami final is how she's endured the elements like the champion that she is and can be again.

Kvitova suffers from asthma and breathing issues can be exacerbated in the thick, heavy air. Though the shadow completely covered the court by the time this semifinal started, Kvitova still had to endure the sticky-heat and a super-fit Cirstea, who knows the Czech well as they came up through the ranks together.

Still, Kvitova navigated all the challenges, didn't face a break point in closing out her second match point completing a one hour, 41-minute win to set up a final of Wimbledon champions that figures to be a first-strike fest.


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