Petra Kvitova Dominates Safarova in Birmingham; Last Year’s Finalist Pliskova Out

In world tennis there are not many better sights than when Petra Kvitova is playing some of her best tennis. The two-time Wimbledon champion returned to her beloved grass court surface this week in Birmingham–a surface that she absolutely thrives on. Kvitova, who dropped out of the Top 10 for the first time in 3 years, will be hoping that she starts earning better results following a less than ideal Roland Garros campaign.

On the red clay in Paris, Kvitova nearly lost in the first round to WTA rising star Danka Kovinic. In the third round she suffered a shocking loss to American Shelby Rogers, thus drawing a sudden conclusion to her clay court season. Grass is a different story though. Kvitova still remains one of the most feared opponents on the WTA on this particular surface and her resume speaks for itself. Through winning the Wimbledon title in 2011 by beating former champion Maria Sharapova, she would double her winning tally at Wimbledon in 2014.

Kvitova’s pedigree on a grass court is not far off the aura that Serena Williams presents on any court. The left-handed Kvitova makes the most of her fearsome serve out wide that allows her to push her opponent off the grass court from the first shot of the rally. In her first round in Birmingham she faced good friend Lucie Safarova–a player she leads in the head-to-head 8-0. One of the most notable match wins for Kvitova against Safarova was the Wimbledon semifinal in 2014, where Safarova was featuring in her first Grand Slam semifinal. Kvitova won that match 7-6 6-1.

In Birmingham, Safarova had a particularly slow start that allowed Kvitova to gain a stranglehold in this match. The 2014 Wimbledon champion served tremendously; she claimed 16 of the 19 points on her first serve. On her second serve she dropped just the three points and played some of her best tennis like she usually does against her compatriot.

The heavy ball-striking continued in the second set when Petra Kvitova broke the Safarova serve for a *2-1 lead, before subsequently leading by a double break for *4-1 in the second set. Kvitova was in touching distance of her first ever win at the Aegon Classic in her career.

The 26-year old Kvitova faced a break point in her deciding service game but safely closed the match out 6-3 6-2 to progress to the second round of the Aegon Classic.

When talking to the several reporters on site, Kvitova was extremely relaxed when talking about how she feels about being back on the grass.

“I think I started pretty well and I think I served pretty well. I think the beginning was pretty good. I think with the timing it was everything fine. It’s pretty fast and bouncing really well. I was glad that we played some smaller rallies today – but most of the time it is about the one-two shots in the rallies.”
The World No.11 expanded on her reason for enjoying playing shorter rallies because of how “challenging” the start of the grass season can be. Further on, the Grand Slam champion expressed her relief at being able to finish her match before the rain reintroduced itself to the Edgbaston Priory Club.

“I think the schedule was perfect today for me. I think we played a good match today and finished before the rain. It really doesn’t matter – I’m just happy that I won.”

It came as no surprise that Petra Kvitova was one of the players supporting a campaign for an even longer grass court season given her success on this surface.

“Well, definitely I do. I’m excited to be on the grass again. I wish the grass season could be a little bit longer but it is how it is. I love to play on the grass especially at Wimbledon – I have great memories.”

Kvitova will now play another player that loves the grass courts. She will face off with Wimbledon Junior champion of 2014 Jelena Ostapenko in the second round of the Aegon Classic.

Last Year’s Finalist Pliskova out of Aegon Classic

One of the many shocks in the build up tournaments to the Championships saw last year’s Birmingham finalist Karolina Pliskova go out at the first hurdle to Barbora Strycova. The big-serving Czech star had just recently won her first title in four tries having finished losing finalist in her previous three WTA finals.

The win in Nottingham was a welcome win for Pliskova, who has struggled significantly following one of her best years as a professional tennis player. Pliskova experienced some valuable learning lessons on the tour, losing five important finals on the WTA tour. Those finals ascended her to No. 7 in the world rankings, but the 2016 season has been a considerable fall from grace for Pliskova. Her 2015 ended on the most positive of notes as she guided the Czech national team to Fed Cup glory–totaling the highest number of Fed Cup victories of 9 title wins.

Is Pliskova feeling the pressure?

The problematic feature to Karolina Pliskova from a psychological point of view is that although she played a fantastic season, she did not experience a true career-defining victory on the WTA Tour that could give her the extra impetus to move even higher in the rankings. She lost two morale-decreasing finals to Angelique Kerber in big finals in Stanford and Birmingham last year; so as much as she was playing thoroughly well, she still has more questions than answers in correlation to her capacity to do it on the biggest of stages.

Following the title win in Nottingham, where she beat Alison Riske in the final, this loss to Strycova is a loss that will hurt in the coming weeks. The World No. 17 is still yet to prove she has what it takes on the grandest of stages at Grand Slam level–having never made it past the third round of a Grand Slam event. That is a worrying statistic for a player that can be undeniably domineering on her day on a tennis court. Her serve, when working, is one of the most fearsome shots in the women’s game, so there is no question that Pliskova should be achieving a lot more with the attributes she has as a tennis player.

Pliskova will need to find the winning formula in some of the bigger events coming up in order to alleviate some of the pressure placed onto her shoulders.

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