INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - No.9 seed Petra Kvitova has equalled the longest winning streak of her career in dramatic fashion, capturing her 14th consecutive victory after three hours and 17 minutes on court with a seesawing 6-7(4), 7-6(3), 6-4 victory over Yulia Putintseva in the second round of the BNP Paribas Open.
"It’s kind of tough to explain, because it was really up-and-down," Kvitova told the press afterwards. "My mental side wasn’t really tough, I have to say. It was always, like, a good point and I was up mentally, and then it was a bad point, and I was down. That was almost all match."
"I couldn’t show the game which I played the last few weeks," Kvitova continued. "I just really stayed very calm."
The Czech has rarely been at her best on North American hard courts, or in the desert heat of Indian Wells; in seven previous visits here, she has just two quarterfinals to her name. Today, she struggled with her consistency in a major way - striking 66 winners and seven aces, but also 78 unforced errors and an extremely unfortunate 18 double faults.
"I just spent too much time out there," Kvitova said. When the Czech was told it was the longest WTA main-draw match of the season so far, she sarcastically replied "What an honor," and then laughed out loud.
Moreover, the two-time Wimbledon champion was up against one of the most tenacious competitors on tour in Putintseva, whose canny counterpunching would prove an entertaining foil for Kvitova's big hitting in the first encounter between the pair.
Seeking to avoid getting bogged down in long rallies on the slow courts, the 29-year-old made her intentions to come forward as often as possible plain in the opening games of the match. However, the Kazakh also able to turn this weapon against her opponent, dragging or luring Kvitova into net with short slices. It was whenever the former World No.2 was in the forecourt but not on her own terms that she was vulnerable, as Putintseva took her pick from a variety of passes and lobs.
Kvitova's form oscillated from extreme to extreme. Twice in the first set, she fell behind a break, with the nadir being the five netted forehands and two double faults with which she conceded the eighth game - one that left Putintseva serving for the set.
Naturally, a flurry of winners followed from the Czech racket to level the set - but in the ensuing tiebreak, errors on the overhead, at net and with forehands sent long, wide or both meant that she would have to come from a set down for the third match in a row.
Kvitova was forced to draw on all her mental reserves in the opening stages of the second set, saving four break points in her first three service games - three in an epic four-deuce fifth game that saw the former World No.2 swing between stunning winners and cascading errors.
Little about this match would be easy - but Kvitova's ability is such that for brief moments, she could make it seem so. The eighth game of the second set was one such moment: having spent much of the set bending double and seeming unable to control her power, the St. Petersburg and Dubai champion simply hammered four consecutive returns, all off Putintseva first serves, to rock her opponent back on her heels and casually snatch the break.
Inevitably, attempting to serve out the set would go awry in the next game courtesy of yet more errant forehands, a netted volley and another increase in the double fault tally. But Kvitova would right the ship in another tiebreak, conjuring up some magnificent net play and coming out on the right side of an epic rally that left both players gasping for air.
Though Putintseva was livid at allowing the match to slip, and let it show in an on-court coaching session before the deciding set, the release of emotion proved beneficial for the World No.81. Scurrying from corner to corner and cleverly anticipating the direction of Kvitova's bombs, the 2016 Roland Garros quarterfinalist recovered an immediate break to leap out to a 4-2 lead.
But though Kvitova appeared to be flagging at times, she has proven over the course of her current winning streak that her stamina is not to be underestimated - spending 10 hours and 38 minutes on court over the course of her title-winning week at the Qatar Total Open. Reeling off 12 of the next 15 points, Putintseva's lead was eradicated in the blink of an eye.
"Every time I lost serve, then I had chances to break her serve," Kvitova mused. "So, probably for the time I stayed calm, and just waited for a chance."
Serving out the match would inevitably be a dramatic microcosm of the rest of it. Kvitova wasted her first match point with her 18th and final double fault, and was forced to save two break points as Putintseva found the corners with her passes. But after three deuces, it was the Kazakh who cracked with an uncharacteristic error: a forehand sent wide that infuriated her so much that she smashed her racket repeatedly into the ground.
The last time Kvitova won 14 straight matches was over 2011-12, when her streak encompassed victories in Linz, the WTA Finals, Fed Cup and Sydney. She'll have a chance to set a new personal best this week when she takes on either No.23 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or 16-year-old wildcard Amanda Anisimova in the third round.