MADRID, Spain - No.10 seed Petra Kvitova became the first ever three-time champion in Mutua Madrid Open history after a marathon battle against clay specialist Kiki Bertens.
A far cry from their one-sided previous encounter in 2015 - which saw Kvitova trounce Bertens in just 36 minutes on grass at Wimbledon - Kvitova needed a grueling two hours and 53 minutes to defeat the Dutch player, 7-6(6), 4-6, 6-3.
“[Winning the title] feels sweet and weird as well,” Kvitova told press afterwards. “I didn't really expect that, even the same time last year. Even coming from Prague last week, I didn't think I could be in the final, winning the trophy back-to-back.
“My body is very exhausted, as well, so... I'm pretty surprised that the body just handle it somehow. Every title feels great. Winning three times here in Madrid, it means something. It's not really happening every day, so I'm very proud of myself.”
Kvitova needed to dig deep and draw upon her years of experience against Bertens, who was contesting her career first Premier Mandatory final. Coming to Madrid after lifting the title at her home tournament in Prague, the Czech was playing in her eleventh match in 13 days, and the fatigue showed during the final.
A pair of marathon games set the tone of the match from the start, with four break points on offer across both games. In fact, five of the opening eight games went to deuce, a sign of how tightly contested the encounter unfolded. Bertens broke first, getting ahead at 2-4, before Kvitova replied in kind to level at 4-4, and, fittingly, the first sets was decided by a tiebreaker.
Kvitova barely edged ahead, with Bertens saving two set points, but the Dutch player buried a forehand into the net to hand the set to Kvitova.
But Kvitova’s fatigue reared its head after the 76-minute opening set, and Bertens capitalized on the opportunity, raising her level to claim the lone break at 4-3. The Dutch player stayed aggressive, drawing Kvitova into long rallies, and she took the second set to level the match.
The final set saw the momentum swing between the two players in a desperate tug of war - four break points were created in the marathon opening two games, and the pair split three straight breaks of serve between the two. In the end, it was Kvitova who edged ahead first and clung to the lead, breaking at 4-2 and again at 5-3 to close out the match after nearly three hours.
“I love to play finals because of the trophy,” Kvitova said. The Czech has won 20 out of her last 24 matches in finals. “That's what we are fighting all week, for the trophy. It's always pretty close, but pretty far as well.
“You meet the best players in the final, so it's always putting lots of effort to win. My last three finals I played for three sets, which it's pretty tiring as well. It probably was the same like today, or playing Muguruza in Doha, Buzarnescu in Prague.
“It's always a big fight, which is nice, but on the other hand probably I loved it, right? That's why I love to play tennis. It's extra motivation.”
The victory puts Kvitova at a tour-leading four WTA titles in 2018 - she’s lifted trophies in St. Petersburg, Doha and Prague - and marks her best-ever start to a season in her career. Kvitova claimed her 30th win of the season; the earliest she has ever reached this milestone before was at 2011 Roland Garros.
The defeat will have a silver lining for Dutch player come Monday, though, when she’s guaranteed to rise to a career-high World No.15 on the WTA Rankings. Kvitova will rise for No.10 to No.8.
“I think I can be really proud of myself, like seeing myself where I'm coming from,” a tearful Bertens told press. “Just playing today in this final, playing tennis like the level I played today I think was quite okay for such a big final.
“Of course, it really hurts right now. I think you can see that. Maybe already tomorrow or next week or in a few weeks I can really look back on a great week and know I'm on the right way.”