RG: Mattek-Sands edges Petra

Qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands recorded her best Grand Slam result in nearly two years on Wednesday, as she ousted No.15 seed Petra Kvitova in the second round of the French Open in a pair of tiebreaks, 7-6(5), 7-6(5).

The American reached the third round at three of the four Grand Slams in 2015, but hadn’t won a main draw match in the last five majors.

Wearing a shirt covered in cherries, Mattek-Sands’ powerful approach bore fruit, as she struck 30 winners in two sets and found herself successful on nearly 70 percent of her forays to net.

“I saw Petra before the tournament started. I gave her a big hug,” Mattek-Sands said. “I was really happy to see her back, especially after everything that had happened. You know, she’s an inspiration. That’s what I told her end of the match, too. She not only came back from all of that, she came back playing well.

“We had a great match today. It’s really good to see her back and playing well. She’s a great champion, so it’s a really good win for me.”

Facing a point for 2-5 down in the first set, Mattek-Sands forced a tiebreak, and then also rallied from 2-4 down at the change of ends to seal the opening by winning five of the last six points. In the second set, the American broke in the opening game, but later repeated the feat of escaping a deficit in a tiebreak to see herself to victory.

“I have to say that I’m kind of surprised how I played, even [though] I lost,” Kvitova said. “I think it was good fight, and I think in the tiebreak showed that I don’t really have matches under my belt.”

In a blistering opening set by both players, Mattek-Sands hit 16 winners to just four unforced errors, while Kvitova also powered to a ratio of 17 winners to 11 unforced. After losing serve in the fifth game and trailing 2-4, the American saved a trio of break points on serve in the seventh game, and used the momentum as a springboard to breaking Kvitova after the changeover.

Neither player faced a break point from there as the set headed to a tiebreak, in which the Czech held leads of 3-0 and 4-2. However, aggressive play from Mattek-Sands saw a three-point swing go her way, and she rifled a backhand return winner to set up set point en route to pocketing the first.

“I play aggressive. I was really going for my serve,” Mattek-Sands said, assessing her tactics in the victory. “I know when she’s feeling great she’s hitting her returns clean, and, you know, she did that for a couple games in both sets. You know, she was hitting some clean winners off some good serves. That’s kind of the Petra we know and love.

“I just stuck with my game, played aggressive, came to net when I wanted to, mixed up a few dropshots here and there. To me that’s kind of fun tennis, creative tennis, and that’s how I like playing. I really enjoyed myself out
there.”

Mattek-Sands’ momentum continued to begin the second set, as she built a 3-1 lead and held a pair of break points to stretch her advantage to 4-1. However, Kvitova displayed some spirited resistance to get the set back on serve and earn herself three break points in a pivotal eighth game to hold for 4-4.

Nonetheless, Mattek-Sands stayed on serve, twice serving to stay in the set, from there, and twice Kvitova held leads in the second set tiebreak. In her second match since November, however, the Czech was upended by the
bettle-tested Mattek-Sands, who was contesting her fifth singles match of the fortnight thus far.

“I didn’t really have expectations here. Just came to, you know, open my comeback, kind of,” Kvitova said. “The mission is completed, which I’m very happy for that, and I’m happy that this all ended. The atmosphere on Court 1 was incredible today, I have to say, even for Beth. It was really amazing. I mean, it was full and they were cheering loudly. So made me happy, as well. It was nice hearing my name through the crowd.”

RG: Emotional win for Petra on return

Barely five months after the attack which threatened her career, Petra Kvitova’s first match back was a triumph on every level.

On a normal day, a 6-3, 6-2 first round win by a two-time Wimbledon champion and current world No.16 over a player ranked 70 places lower would generate little comment; and nor, when the higher-ranked player triumphed, would that person usually drop their racket in disbelief, tears in their eyes on and on their cheeks, while the crowd rose in acclaim. Petra Kvitova’s opening day triumph on Court Philippe-Chatrier was the exception. In circumstances that were anything but routine, she produced a victory over not just her opponent Julia Boserup but very much more.

It is barely five months since the Czech suffered career-threatening injuries to her playing hand when an intruder at her Prostejov apartment attacked her with a knife. Just last Friday she confirmed that Roland-Garros 2017 would see her restored to competition, and at 11.09am on humid Parisian morning, she struck her first ball in anger since she and her compatriots lifted the Fed Cup last November.

The word “courage” is frequently bandied about idly in the sporting context, when what is actually meant is mere resourcefulness, or ingenuity. This was one of the rare occasions when it was not only reasonable, but essential to apply it. Plenty of knowledgeable onlookers feared Kvitova would be either unable to complete a full match here, or that the result might have embarrassed her. Boserup, they worried, would occupy the unenviable role of The One To Defeat Our Beloved Heroine on her return, unforgiven for exercising the essential unsentimental competitive desire to defeat your opponent no matter what the circumstances.

These knowledgeable onlookers were obliged to dine on their own words, and did so gladly, finding it a most delicious repast. Kvitova was 3-0 up in eight minutes, with winners pouring from her racquet. But Boserup’s ranking has climbed steadily this year, boosted by an Australian Open win over Francesca Schiavone no less – champion here, of course, in 2010. She tested Kvitova sufficiently that ultimately the No.15 seed required 41 minutes to close out that first set. After that Boserup found the second far tougher, and Kvitova’s winner count reached 31 by the time the job was done.

“This match was special to me,” she acknowledged afterwards. “It wasn’t really about the game today. I’ve said before that I’ve already won the biggest fight, and now I won for the second time. It was such a heart-warming welcome on Chatrier, and everyone who helped me through the difficult time was there, including my family. Yesterday I was wondering what it would be like, and I couldn’t imagine it. I thought I might cry when I stepped on court, which I didn’t do. But at the end I didn’t have to control my emotions any more, so a few tears.

“I had no pain in my hand – it felt a little weird after the rain [a five-minute delay near the start of the second set], but that went after one point. I promised my doctor, who gave me the green light to play here, that if I feel pain in my hand at any time I will stop. It’s a little tricky sometimes – couple of times I didn’t feel the racquet that strongly in my hand. But starting the match with a forehand winner was amazing. I feel great.”

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