Day 3 recap: Gippsland Trophy

In the final point of their second-round match at the Yarra Valley Classic, Petra Kvitova found just enough racquet to send Venus Williams’ blistering serve inches over the net. Williams raced forward and lunged, but the ball was out of her reach.

If anything, the moment was fitting, as not much separated the two late Monday into Tuesday morning on Margaret Court Arena. Despite a frenzy of errors throughout the match, Kvitova pulled away with a 7-6 (6), 7-5 win.

Somewhat ironically, as close as the encounter was, this was the first time in eight career meetings dating back to 2014 that a third set did not decide the winner.

“I knew it would be difficult,” Kvitova said a few minutes later in her on-court interview. “I thought it was a good quality match from both sides. … We are playing similar games. It’s always 50-50.”

Williams, 40, started off quickly. She aced Kvitova on the first point of the match, then followed with a quick hold. An eventual break gave her a 3-1 lead. But Williams was unable to consolidate in the next game, and Kvitova drew even. The two held serve for the next seven games. In the tiebreaker, Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon winner, leaned on her heavy forehand down the stretch, including a screaming down-the-line winner following a 101 mph serve on her fourth set point to seal the opening frame.  

The second set was hardly seamless. Kvitova rode some early momentum, taking a 3-1 lead in part because of Williams’ shaky serves. But leading 4-2, a string of unforced errors again plagued the 30-year-old world No. 9, including a backhand miscue that sailed well wide, giving her opponent the break back.

After four consecutive holds, Williams, serving at 5-6, sent a badly timed forehand into the middle of net, setting up match point for Kvitova.

Kvitova was the aggressor throughout the match, striking nearly twice as many winners (41-22) but also committing far more unforced errors (39-19).

Hard to believe, but seven years had passed since Kvitova last beat Williams. They had played twice since, with Williams winning a 2017 US Open quarterfinal showdown (7-6 in the third) and another three-set nail-biter two years later at Indian Wells.

Kvitova next takes on 14th-seeed Nadia Podoroska, who took out Greet Minnen earlier in the day, in the round of 16.

Barty's return a success

World No.1 Ashleigh Barty made a triumphant return to the WTA on home soil, as her first match in nearly a year fell in her favor. 

The world’s top-ranked player dispatched Ana Bogdan of Romania, 6-3, 6-3, to move into the round of 16 at the Yarra Valley Classic. This is her first event since a semifinal loss to Petra Kvitova at Doha in February of 2020.

"I had so much fun out here today, and I think I missed you guys so much as well!" Barty said to the jubilant fans in Melbourne, during her post-match interview on court.

"This is one of my favorite places to play in the entire world, and for me to be able to come back after 11 or 12 months off now -- it’s been a while, but I miss this feeling, I miss coming out here and competing," Barty continued, as she looks towards a third-round clash with No.16 seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic.

Despite the lengthy absence, it looked as though Barty had never been away. The Australian fired 22 winners to Bogdan’s 11, and faced just a single break point -- which came and was swatted away in the very last game of the match.

World No.93 Bogdan had lost her three previous matches against Top 10 opposition, and though she acquitted herself well in her first match against a reigning World No.1, Barty was still able to rack up her comeback win after 73 minutes of play.

Both players held serve comfortably up to 3-3, but it was there where Barty kicked into overdrive, winning eight of Bogdan’s last nine service points to rack up two breaks and close out the opening set. 

Bogdan stopped a five-game winning streak for Barty by saving break point and holding for 1-1, but Barty was undeterred and grasped another love break to move ahead 4-2.

The Romanian stayed steely in the final stretches, saving two match points before holding for 5-3, then at last earning her first break point of the match in that game. But Barty served her way to two more match points, and wrapped up victory with her sixth ace of the encounter.

Eight isn't enough: Kenin advances again in Melbourne

Make it eight wins in a row for Sofia Kenin at Melbourne Park.

The reigning Australian Open champion is back to the site of her biggest career triumph as the No.2 seed at the Yarra Valley Classic this week and secured safe passage through to the third round at the WTA 500 event when Camila Giorgi retired after the opening set of their second-round clash with a left thigh injury. 

"This obviously is not the way I wanted to win. I obviously hope she's going to feel better. It was a good match. I hope she's going to feel better for the Aussie Open," Kenin said, debriefing reporters after the match.

"It's unfortunate, but I feel like I played well. It's a win. I'm going to take it, of course. I felt like I felt my game really good today, even though I was making a lot of unforced errors with my forehand. It was weird, I just felt really good... just made a little bit too many unforced errors."

From 3-0 up, Kenin quickly found herself 4-3 down against the hot-and-cold Italian, whose patented first-strike tennis from the baseline forced Kenin into mistakes, but also resulted in unforced errors of her own.

In the end, a burst of momentum in the closing stages of the set secured the World No.4 three straight games for a one-set lead, 7-5, and a short time later, the retirement victory.

Assessing her play in the abridged match in her on-court interview with former WTA player Jill Craybas, Kenin added: "I was missing too many forehands and she lifted her game. I just told myself to make the forehands and I was able to close out the first set."

Up next for Kenin as she looks to keep her unbeaten streak at Melbourne Park alive is compatriot Jessica Pegula, who came from 5-2 down in the second set to beat Germany's Mona Barthel, 6-4, 7-5.

"It's really special. [I'm] super glad to be here... It's the first time I'm experiencing coming back to a Grand Slam where I want to try to defend my title. Of course, there's nerves... but I'm going to do my best and we're going to see how it goes."

- Sofia Kenin

Podoroska, Rogers stay winning

No.14 seed Nadia Podoroska and American Shelby Rogers, two surprise packages at Grand Slams in 2020, are rounding into form ahead of the first major of 2021. The two booked spots in the third round with contrasting victories. 

Rogers, a quarterfinalist at the US Open, overcame Sweden's Rebecca Peterson in nearly two-and-a-half hours, 6-4, 5-7, 6-2, while Podoroska, the French Open semifinalist, bested Belgian Greet Minnen in straights, 6-3, 6-4.

2021 Yarra Valley Classic Highlights: Podoroska ousts Minnen for R16 berth

The Argentine could be a semifinal opponent for Kenin in the bottom half of the draw, and the American was effusive in her praise of the 23-year-old when prompted by a reporter in her press conference.

"She's a great girl," Kenin said of Podoroska, the reigning WTA Newcomer of the Year. "I don't really know her so well, but she has a really good game, a tough game. She had a great run at the French. It's obviously great for the Fila family. We're all part of Fila. I think it's really good. She plays big. She's tough."