In a bruising encounter between two of the WTA’s most powerful players, No.9 seed Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic outhit 19-year-old Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, to advance to the third round of the Miami Open on Friday.
In the first meeting between the heavy hitters, the Czech former World No.2 moved past the rising teenager, ranked 60th in the world, in just over two hours of startlingly strong tennis. Kvitova moves into the third round at Miami for the fifth time overall, and denies Sabalenka the first Top 10 victory of her career.
The Belarusian teenager used her solid groundstrokes to break Kvitova in the Czech’s first service game, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead. But Kvitova regrouped and reeled off three games in a row, including two breaks of the Sabalenka serve, to go up a break at 3-2.
The players exchanged breaks in the next two games, leading to an opportunity for Kvitova to serve out the set at 5-4. But the two-time Wimbledon champion threw in a shocker of a service game, hitting two double faults, including one on break point, to allow Sabalenka to break back for 5-5.
But, again, Kvitova recovered fantastically. Huge service returns from the Czech let her break Sabalenka at love, giving her an additional chance to serve for the set at 6-5. Kvitova would come through successfully this time, winning the final eight points of the set by holding at love. Kvitova had 13 winners in the first set, and only 12 unforced errors.
The tables completely turned in the second set, however, as Sabalenka hit her targets with greater efficacy, and Kvitova’s unforced errors mounted. Sabalenka went on a tear to start the set, racing to a substantial lead by breaking the error-prone Kvitova twice, including at love to claim a 5-1 advantage.
Sabalenka faltered at the end of what had been a stellar set for her, allowing Kvitova to break her serve for 5-2. Kvitova then fended off two set points in the next game to hold for 5-3, ramping up the pressure on the teenager.
But Sabalenka stayed strong in her next service game, holding with ease to put the match at one set apiece. Sabalenka had nine winners and nine unforced errors in the second set, a fine ratio for her power game. Meanwhile, Kvitova wholly negated her seven second-set winners with a whopping 15 unforced errors.
In the decider, the players held routinely up to 2-2. In that game, Sabalenka reached the first break point of the set when a brilliant lob over a net-rushing Kvitova landed deep and just on the sideline. But that bit of magic seemed to fire Kvitova up, and she won the next three points of the game with huge serves and a powerful forehand winner to hold for 3-2.
Unbelievably, that moment of danger for Kvitova propelled her to greater heights, while Sabalenka, ruing her lost opportunity, was not quite the same afterwards. Kvitova claimed the first break of the set in the next game, hitting a stunning drop volley for a winner to take the 4-2 lead. A big backhand by the Czech forced an error on game point as Kvitova held for 5-2, in touching distance of a hard-fought win.
A strong hold by Sabalenka for 5-3 put her back on track, but Kvitova held her nerve enough to reach match point in the next game. On that point, Kvitova hit a serve which was called an ace, although Sabalenka felt it was out. Unfortunately for the up-and-coming teenager, Sabalenka had no challenges remaining, leaving the Belarusian visibly despondent while Kvitova celebrated an incredibly tough triumph.
WTATennis.com / Photo: Matthew Stockman, Getty Images North America