Welcome back to Clay Chronicles, where wtatennis.com will take a look back at some of the most memorable matches from the clay seasons of the past five years. After recapping Charleston's classics, our retrospective now heads to Stuttgart, Germany to recount some of the best matches from recent editions of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. Next up is the powerful play from Petra Kvitova's three-set quarterfinal victory over Garbiñe Muguruza from 2016.
2015: Angelique Kerber def. Maria Sharapova, second round
HOW THEY GOT THERE: The 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix field was, as usual, loaded with the best of the best in women’s tennis, as six of the Top 10 players in the world lined up to contest the Premier clay-court event.
Despite five of those Top 10 players advancing to the quarterfinals, only one of those elite-eight matches featured a contest between two women from that echelon. There, a bruising battle was set up between one player who had already made her mark at the highest level, and another who was quickly approaching that status as well.
Coming into the 2016 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, Petra Kvitova had already been a regular at the top of the game for five years, with 17 WTA singles titles to her credit at that juncture, including two Wimbledon championships and a WTA Finals trophy.
However, the Czech had a slow start to 2016. Kvitova was upset by Daria Gavrilova in the second round of the Australian Open, and had not advanced past the quarterfinals of an event coming into Stuttgart. In fact, Kvitova was quite fortunate to make it to that stage at the German indoor claycourt event.
Kvitova’s first two rounds in Stuttgart were a perfect representation of her inconsistent season -- after double-bagelling Louisa Chirico in the opening round, the World No.7 had to save three match points before gritting out a 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 victory over crafty Monica Niculescu in round two.
Meanwhile, Garbiñe Muguruza had only two WTA singles titles in her career ledger coming into the week, but the Spaniard was fully on the ascendancy. Less than a year beforehand, Muguruza had been ranked outside the Top 20, but a run to the 2015 Wimbledon final had catapulted her into the bigtime and a Top 3 year-end finish in 2015.
Muguruza started Stuttgart ranked World No.4 -- three spots ahead of Kvitova -- and was rewarded with a first-round bye, before breezing past Timea Babos 6-2, 6-2 in the second round. However, Muguruza also had yet to reach a semifinal in 2016 at the outset of the event.
Thus, the two Top 10 stars were each seeking a season breakthrough in Stuttgart. They would face off for the second time, with Kvitova looking to avenge a round-robin loss to Muguruza at the 2015 WTA Finals.
WHAT HAPPENED: If the first set was any indication, Kvitova was hungry to notch her first win over Muguruza, as she quickly zoomed ahead. A backhand passing winner on break point gave the Czech an early break advantage at 3-1.
Kvitova kept on cruising through the remainder of the opening frame, as she stormed to a 6-1 lead without facing a break point, finishing the set with a fierce forehand winner after half an hour of play.
In the second set, though, the Muguruza power game started to click. At 3-2, the Spaniard earned her first break points of the day, and she took advantage, breaking the Kvitova service for a 4-2 lead.
A fabulous forehand winner by Muguruza on game point gave her a 5-2 advantage, and two games later, the No.3 seed leveled the match with a 6-3 second set. With a decider looming, Muguruza had wrested momentum away from the Czech as she sought a second straight win over her opponent.
In the end, though, Kvitova righted the ship for the final set. The No.5 seed’s powerful play put her up an early break, and she claimed a double-break lead with a pinpoint service return on the sideline, charging ahead 4-0.
It took three sets, but Kvitova finished the encounter by executing her third bagel of the week, as Muguruza double faulted on the two-time Wimbledon champion’s second match point to end the affair in favor of the Czech, 6-1, 3-6, 6-0.
WHAT THEY SAID: The twosome complimented each other after the hard-hitting affair between two of the WTA’s elite.
“I think both of us played well today; [Muguruza] served very good as well, especially in the second set,” Kvitova told the media, after her victory. “I think that she was trying not to risk really much in the second set and took the opportunity to break me and was definitely good, too.
“The beginning of the third [set], the first two games was pretty close, and I think that was kind of key of the match then.”
“For sure, definitely, in the third set I served very well — I think it’ll be good to continue that, for sure,” added Kvitova, who was now staring down a match with defending champion Angelique Kerber in the semifinals.
“I lost to [Kerber] in Singapore unfortunately, [and] I know how dangerous she is,” Kvitova stated. “Definitely she’s playing [a] good game as well. It will be a good challenge to play again. Glad that I’m semifinal, I’ve got three matches. I think that can help me with the confidence and the feeling of the balls and everything.”
“I’m pretty happy with the match,” Muguruza said to the press, despite the loss. “I think Petra played very well, especially she served very well and her shots were there, was difficult for me to play because she was hitting so hard.”
“I think it’s very tough because I wasn’t playing bad, I was like running and trying to just fight for every point,” the Spaniard added. “In important moments, she went for her shots and she found them and I was like ‘Man, I’m playing good [but] 3-0, 4-0, 5-0.’ I mean, with these kind of players, with Petra, she’s playing good, she hits everything.”
“I don’t know, I think today she had a good breakfast!” Muguruza laughed.
WHAT IT MEANT: Despite reaching her first semifinal of the season, Kvitova was unable to capitalize on her fantastic third-set form. Kvitova fell in the following round to reigning titleholder Kerber, and the German eventually swept to her second consecutive Porsche Tennis Grand Prix title.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova remained titleless deep into 2016, but she finally entered the winner’s circle for the season during the Asian swing, hoisting trophies at the Wuhan Open and the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai.
Muguruza, on the other hand, learned from the defeat and applied it to the remainder of the clay-court season, with career-altering results. After a semifinal showing at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, the Spaniard went into Roland Garros as the No.4 seed.
There, in Paris, Muguruza made her second Grand Slam final, and then shocked World No.1 Serena Williams in the championship match for her first Grand Slam singles title, cementing her position in tennis history.