DOHA, Qatar - No.16 seed Petra Kvitova battled fatigue and a fresher opponent in No.3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza to recover from a set deficit for the third time this week, capturing the Qatar Total Open in a battling 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 thriller and extending her winning streak to 13 - the second-longest of her career.
For the second match running, the Czech managed to reel the Spaniard in after a lightning-fast beginning. At the US Open last year, Muguruza had had points for a 5-1 lead before Kvitova eventually came through 7-6(3), 6-3 - and five months on, her swift 5-0 lead was insufficient to prevent a comeback.
The two players had reached the final in contrasting fashion, with Kvitova spending eight hours and 22 minutes on court over five matches this week - nearly double the time needed by Muguruza to win just three matches, thanks to her first-round bye and semifinal walkover from Simona Halep.
Kvitova's start seemed to reflect this as the 27-year-old swiftly fell to a 0-5 deficit. Committing tired-looking unforced errors, often within the first few strokes of rallies - 15 would mount up in total in the first set, compared to only four winners - the two-time Wimbledon champion was a shadow of the thrilling player who had put together a 12-match winning streak coming into the final.
Crucially, too, Kvitova's serve was largely absent. Just 48% of her first serves landed in, and four double faults were a further hindrance - particularly against a rock-solid opponent who maintained an impressive 75% first serve percentage, and was adept at finishing points at net when she needed to.
Staring down the barrel of a bagel seemed to wake the World No.21 up. Striking her first ace en route to getting on the scoreboard for the first time, Kvitova then reeled off three consecutive games. It wasn't enough to save the set, which the Wimbledon champion served out undramatically to 15 at the second time of asking, but it was a statement of intent that set the tone for the rest of the match.
A superbly contested second set saw both players produce shots of breathtaking quality, including moments of brilliant improvisation such as the scooped reflex forehand volley from Kvitova in the eighth game. Increasingly, though, it was the former World No.2 who managed to peak on the biggest points, fending off all four break points she faced in the set - often with gutsy, line-painting play.
This approach also paid off for Kvitova in seizing the set's one, deciding break of serve. A pulsating two-deuce sixth game was sealed on the Czech's third break point with a monstrous backhand crosscourt into the very corner of the court. With her first serve percentage raised to a more respectable 68%, Kvitova was able to fend off a potential Muguruza fightback in the following game, and her third ace of the match helped seal the set 6-3.
The intensity of the rallies raised even further in the deciding set, with both players averaging over 100mph on their groundstrokes. A Muguruza backhand winner staved off a break point against the Spaniard in the first game; three games later, Kvitova would save another two, the second with her seventh ace.
Frequently, though, it was Muguruza forced into the role of soaking up her opponent's pace - not a position the former World No.1 relishes being in, and in key moments one that let her down. The fifth game of the set was capped by two epic, clean-hitting rallies of magnificent quality - both ending in a Muguruza error. Meanwhile, in stark contrast to her sluggish start, Kvitova was proving more creative in neutral rallies, deploying the slice - a much-underrated element of her arsenal - to particularly canny effect.
The 2016 Roland Garros champion took a medical time-out in the subsequent changeover, and two games later managed to survive two break points to go down a double break before conjuring up a clever lob to hold.
But Kvitova remained impregnable on serve - though she was forced to produce a moment of genius in a reflex inside-out backhand bullet to save a break point in the sixth game - and sealed her 22nd career title on her second championship point as a Muguruza backhand found the net.
The win marks Muguruza's first defeat in a final since her Wuhan retirement to Venus Williams in October 2015, while Kvitova extends her record in title matches to 22-7 - and seals the biggest title of her comeback from the career-threatening knife injuries she sustained in a home invasion during the 2016 off-season.
Champion in St. Petersburg two weeks ago, Kvitova's title run here also marks the first time the 27-year-old has won back-to-back titles since her victories in Linz and the WTA Finals in 2011 - and the first time she has achieved the feat at Premier level and above. The win also returns the Czech to the Top 10 for the first time since June 2016.