Two of tennis's top performers of the last decade met for the 15th time in the Bad Homburg semifinals on Friday, where Angelique Kerber prevailed over Petra Kvitova in a third-set tiebreak, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6(3).
On her home soil, No.4 seed Kerber defeated No.1 seed Kvitova to move into the final of the Bad Homburg Open presented by Engel & Volkers. The occasion will mark the German's first appearance in a WTA singles final in two years.
"I was really fighting until the end, and I was trying to believe that I can win the match and turn around the third set," Kerber said, after her win. "Of course, the crowd, when you play at home, the atmosphere here is amazing."
Two-time Grand Slam champion Kvitova brought a slim 8-6 head-to-head lead into their latest clash, with their storied rivalry dating back to a Stuttgart quarterfinal in 2012.
But it was three-time Grand Slam champion and former World No.1 Kerber who eked out a victory over the Czech in front of a delighted home crowd, in one of their closest encounters yet.
"I think it was also important for me to win a match like this, against Petra, because the last few months, I’ve lost really tight matches," Kerber said. "The match against Petra shows me that I’m still able to win matches like this."
Kerber's semifinal victory was her second comeback win of the day. Both she and Kvitova had to play two matches on Friday, after rain washed out play on Thursday.
In quarterfinal matches earlier in the day, Kerber overcame Amanda Anisimova, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, while Kvitova defeated No.5 seed Nadia Podoroska, 6-3, 7-6(10).
"I don’t know when I [last] played six sets in one day, I think it’s a long, long time ago," Kerber said. "But physically I’m feeling good. I will try to recover as fast as possible before tomorrow."
Kerber's latest encounter with frequent opponent Kvitova was the more perilous of her two matches, as she needed just over two hours to quash the challenge from her fellow left-hander. Each player broke serve six times in the affair, and although Kvitova had six more winners than Kerber, Kerber had 11 fewer unforced errors than the Czech.
But it was Kvitova who stormed through the first set, with 12 winners to just five unforced errors during that timeframe. Kvitova was also twice up an early break in the second set before Kerber began to turn things around with a key break for 3-3.
At 5-4 in the second set, Kerber opened up that game with a return winner, and her aggressive stance came into play as she drew two consecutive double faults from Kvitova in the last two points, leveling the match at one set apiece.
Kvitova kept herself in front for much of the third set, moving ahead by a break on three separate occasions. Each time, though, Kerber eventually struck back with crisp groundstrokes which skidded along the grass surface, including at 6-5, where Kvitova failed to serve out the match.
The stage was set for a decisive final-set tiebreak, and Kerber took charge right away, opening the breaker with a forehand winner, then reaching 4-0 with a crosscourt backhand that kissed the sideline. From there, Kerber eased to double match point at 6-2; a fiery Kvitova forehand saved one, but Kerber converted the second after a rally forehand by Kvitova flew wide.
Kerber will now attempt to claim a 13th WTA singles title in her 31st career final, and her first final since 2019 Eastbourne, exactly two years ago. To grab one more champion's trophy, she will have to defeat another Czech, Katerina Siniakova, who has beaten three seeded players already this week.
"[Siniakova] is another tough opponent, and she played well today, she also played two matches," Kerber said, looking ahead to the final. "I think I will go out there, try to play aggressive, thinking more [about] what I want to do and how I played today, and try to continue this for tomorrow’s match and enjoy the final."
World No.76 Siniakova also picked up two wins on Friday, edging No.8 seed Laura Siegemund of Germany, 7-5, 6-4 in the morning quarterfinals, then coming back hours later to dispatch No.7 seed Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain, 6-2, 6-4, and reach her first singles final of the year.
"I’ve never been in a final on grass courts, so I was really fighting the grass," Siniakova exclaimed, after her win. "But I think I can suit my game to the grass, so I’m really happy that I won four matches and I’m in the final."
Siniakova, who won her third Grand Slam women's doubles title alongside Barbora Krejcikova at Roland Garros earlier this month, has shown off her impressive singles game this week, which previously pulled her into the Top 35 and garnered her two WTA singles titles in 2017.
"I hope, and I’m expecting, that I can use so many volleys from my doubles, because I think I’m pretty good at that," Siniakova said. "I can use them especially on the grass. I’m really happy this week I was doing them well. I was playing quite a lot at the net, and it worked."
Siniakova's quarterfinal against Siegemund featured numerous breaks of service, with ten between the two players. Siniakova was less troubled on serve during her semifinal, as she only dropped serve once while facing Sorribes Tormo. Against the Spaniard, Siniakova won 77 percent of her first-service points as she collected her second straight-set win of the day.
Siniakova reeled off the last five games of the first set against Sorribes Tormo, then took control early in the second set as well. At 1-1, Siniakova ended a stirring rally with a volley winner to reach break point, where Sorribes Tormo double faulted to lose serve.
That would turn out to be the only break point in the entire second set as Siniakova eased to victory. At 5-4, a long return by Sorribes Tormo gave Siniakova match point, which the Czech converted after one final strong serve went unreturned.
"I’m expecting a really tough match [in the final]," Siniakova said after her semifinal, at which time her opponent was yet to be determined. "I will try to play my best, and I will try to enjoy it, and we will see how it goes."