NEW YORK, NY, USA - Venus Williams advanced to her third major semifinal of the season on Tuesday with a gritty and inspired 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2) win over Petra Kvitova in the quarterfinals of the US Open.
Three takeaways from one of the most compelling matches of the 2017 season.
The Venus-Petra rivalry is one of the best rivalries in the current game.
Speak softly and carry a big stick. That's the Petra and Venus way. Yet when they face off there is a ferocity unleashed, a champion's drive that you cannot look away from. They reign down clutch aces. They throw absurd haymakers from the baseline. Finesse is displayed at the net. They roar in celebration and scream in anguish. Neither woman ever backs down.
Two of the most talented and respected players in the locker room, it's a disservice to the sport that these two heavy hitters have faced off just six times over the course of their careers. Each encounter has been compelling. They have all gone the full three-sets and the deciding set of their last four matches have now gone 7-6(2), 7-5, 7-6(7), 7-6(2). It's rare to see power games match up so well against each other, but Venus and Kvitova simply inspire the best out of each other every time.
"She's a champion," Kvitova said simply. "I think those are the words which describe everything."
They have both overcome tremendous physical and emotional adversity, with Venus being diagnosed with an auto-immune disorder in 2011 and slowly plotting her way back to the top of the game, while Kvitova is still in the midst of recovering from the horrendous knife attack in her home at the end of last year, which left her dominant playing hand severely lacerated.
In the end, one of them blinks because they are human. That humanity is what makes Kvitova and Venus so compelling as competitors. As effortless as their powerful games can dominate, they can implode in a flash. Kvitova believes that's why they bring out the best in each other.
"I think that both of us know that we can play well," she said. "We can play well against each other. I think always kind of these matches are showing the best from us. It's always up and down and about a few points [to decide] the set. That's probably why we are always fighting, and a third set has to decide it."
Here's hoping we'll be seeing more third sets between these two sooner rather than later.
Venus' match management was flawless.
One remarkable aspect about Venus' astounding 2017 Slam season is her ability to unwind power players. Flashback to January, when she bested CoCo Vandeweghe 6-7(3), 6-2, 6-3 in the Australian Open semifinals by quickly realizing she could not match the young American power for power. So she opted to play clean, to rely on her speed and physicality to force the extra ball and pressure Vandeweghe into errors. En route to her second major final of the season at Wimbledon, she bested two of the flattest hitters in the game in French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko and Johanna Konta. Her match management has been top-notch, playing the tight moments with poise and intelligence.
"Our last few matches, if you can imagine the quality of this match was high, I would say the others were even higher," Venus said. "A lot of times in those matches I just felt a little unlucky. Like she would hit these amazing shots out of nowhere, and all I could do was say, Well done. I never really did anything wrong in those matches.
"Sometimes you have opportunities and sometimes you take them and you don't, but it's not like you get opportunity after opportunity after opportunity in these sorts of matches. You have to take the ones you have. I was happy to have a little more luck today, actually."
Against Kvitova, Venus dug in and refused to give the Czech any free points. That meant dialing back her hitting early - she hit 13 winners to 14 unforced errors in the first two sets - before making a conscious charge towards the finish line once she leveled the decider at 3-all. Kvitova had the early break in the third but double-faulted on break point to level the set. From there, Venus' grunts got louder, the serves got bigger, the forehands fiercer. Kvitova certainly noticed.
"About the double fault [on break point in the third set], of course I didn't want to make it, but I think that she put a lot of pressure on the returns, especially on my second serve," Kvitova said. "She stands pretty close. She was going for it. I just didn't want to put it [in] like [softly].
"But I think I wasn't really serving well the last two matches. Fortunately, I found the serve at the end of the third set but, yeah, I had the break in the third and unfortunately, I gave it back to her."
Petra Kvitova looks ahead to Asia.
Asia has been fruitful ground for Kvitova in the past and she's hoping it will be again. Kvitova finished her 2016 season with a flurry of success in the fall, winning the Wuhan Open for a second time and capping off her season with the title at the WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai.
This year she is set to play a full schedule through the Asian swing, starting at the Toray Pan Pacific Open, Wuhan Open, China Open, and Tianjin Open. If you can believe it, she's even hoping to add one more tournament to that list.
"I just asked my PR manager if I do have a chance for Zhuhai," Kvitova said, laughing. "She didn't know, so I have no idea.
"It's a pretty long trip in Asia, but I didn't play for five, six months.... After this great run here, I hope it will be a little bit easier for me to breathe and play well, and with no expectations again."
This year's US Open has already featured three matches worthy of a final.
It started in the first round with No.2 Simona Halep and Maria Sharapova duking it out in the best quality match, wire to wire, of the tournament, with the Russian winning 6-4, 4-6, 6-3. Then came No.3 Garbiñe Muguruza locking horns with Kvitova in the Round of 16, where Kvitova edged out a tight first set before winning 7-6(3), 6-3. Then came Tuesday night, as two great champions put on a fantastic display of grit and guts. This year's US Open has seen the tour's marquee players put on show, which intensifies our curiosity as to what the last remaining days has in store.