This was a match that really mattered.
The winner would advance to the semifinals of the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships in Istanbul and the loser would book holiday plans a couple of days earlier.
Petra Kvitova ultimately got the better of this hard-fought battle with a 67(3) 62 63 win over Angelique Kerber in an extremely tight match that no one could predict the outcome of until very late in the third set.
It's always a different kind of battle when a lefty plays a lefty but there were key patterns of play that dominated this very important match-up.
The first was court position.
Hawk-Eye visualization showed Kvitova was very aggressive around the baseline for the entire match, hitting 62% of her shots behind the baseline and 38% inside it. Kerber couldn't come close to competing with that as she spent 85% of the time behind the baseline and only 15% inside. Tennis is a game that rewards how you hit the ball but more importantly where you hit it from and Kvitova was always ahead of the game in this critical area.
SAP analytics uncovered Kvitova's forehand as the most dominant shot on the court with 27 winners as she tried to keep control of all baseline rallies with her primary weapon. Kvitova said she knew she had to look for her forehand as much as possible. "I know Angie is moving very well," Kvitova said. "She catches a lot of balls. I know that I need to play more forehands down the line and go for the net, for the winners, for the final shot, the volley. So that was the key."
Kvitova also won the real estate battle on returning serve. She didn't make contact with one second serve from behind the baseline while Kerber waited for the majority of her second serve returns deeper in the court. It's hard to hurt someone when you are waiting for the ball to come to you.
The opening game of the match provided some valuable insight into the ensuing battle as Kvitova served a double fault on the first point but won the game by blasting two aces. It's not how badly you start - it's how well you finish.
Kvitova broke serve first for a 3-1 lead when Kerber started and ended her second service game with double faults. Kerber was able to break back for 3-4 shortly after thanks primarily to a double fault from Kvitova to go down 0-30. The most important point in a service game does not always occur at the beginning or end. An untimely double fault in the middle can be a death sentence.
There were no more breaks of serve until the tie-breaker, where Kvitova fell behind 1-2 but would win six of the next seven points to dominate the tie-breaker. Her huge, flat forehand proved to be the difference maker.
Kerber found her mojo in the second set and brought a higher intensity to the points than her Czech opponent. She broke serve at 2-2 and would not lose another game for the set. Her energy was overflowing.
In the deciding set the players traded breaks in the opening two games and Kerber lost her serve again to go down 2-1 and the match felt like it was slipping away a little for the German. Kvitova also went down 15-40 in her next service game but hit a huge second serve down the T that Kerber barely got over the net and Kvitova finished with a forehand crosscourt winner. At 30-40 Kvitova pounded the backhand corner with four successive shots and cleverly went behind on the fifth shot for the winner to get to deuce and ultimately avoid the break. That was as an important a game as any that were played.
Kerber hit exactly 50% of her shots to the deuce and ad court, trying to outmaneuver her Czech opponent, while Kvitova hit 58% of her shots to Kerber's backhand to try and extract a weaker ball to attack.
Kvitova always seemed to have her nose in front in this match but Kerber never gave up and battled fiercely for the entire match. Kerber may not be as powerful as Kvitova, or be more aggressive with how she plays the game, but she is extremely smart with her defense, court position and letting her opponent get into a position to miss. Ultimately this match came down to who could control court position better, and it was the lefty from the Czech Republic who moved on to fight another day.