MADRID, Spain -- Two-time Mutua Madrid Open champion and No.10 seed Petra Kvitova is back in the final in the Spanish capital for the third time, after a 7-6(4), 6-3 victory over 6th-seeded compatriot Karolina Pliskova in a bruising semifinal on Friday night.
"Obviously the altitude [in Madrid] is helping me, for sure," Kvitova told the media, during her post-match press conference. "The balls are a little bit flying more. But on the other hand, I think I'm feeling good on the clay. I had great matches so far on the clay. I'm pretty satisfied with the movement, as well."
Kvitova picked up her tenth straight match win on the WTA with the victory over Pliskova, having won the J&T Banka Prague Open in her home country the week prior to Madrid. The Czechs had not faced off in over three years -- since the final of Sydney in 2015 -- but Kvitova was still able to defeat Pliskova for the third time in three meetings.
"I think every match which I'm playing against a Czech girl, it's always pretty difficult for both of us," explained Kvitova. "It always depends on the few points which is going on one side or the other one. So far I'm pretty lucky that the points are on my side."
Both players acquitted themselves well in the hard-hitting affair, with Kvitova blasting 32 winners to 31 unforced errors, while Pliskova had 21 of each. But Kvitova was slightly more effective winning points on her service, claiming 60 percent of those instances, to only 52 percent for Pliskova.
The 2011 and 2015 Madrid titlist moves into Saturday's final, where she will face Dutch clay-court maven Kiki Bertens, who dispatched No.7 seed Caroline Garcia of France in the earlier semifinal, 6-2, 6-2. Bertens, who won the Volvo Car Open in Charleston earlier this season for the biggest title of her career, is now into her first Premier Mandatory final.
"Obviously, [Bertens] won Charleston," said Kvitova. "She's playing great tennis. She has a big serve, hitting the balls pretty fast, aggressive, same as me. I don't know actually what I'm going to try. I'm going to probably try to play the same as I always try. It's going to be about the serve and wait for something in the rallies. I think she's playing in good form, obviously. It's nice to see her in the final, actually."
Pliskova started the match with a lengthy lead, breaking Kvitova in the first game of the match, and holding that single-break advantage until 4-3. In that game, however, Pliskova double faulted to set up a break point for Kvitova, and the two-time Wimbledon champion converted it with a huge crosscourt forehand that forced a backhand error by Pliskova.
Undeterred, Pliskova immediately broke Kvitova again, sealing the game with a backhand winner down the line. Pliskova then served for the opener at 5-4, but quickly found herself facing triple break point as she collapsed into a pile of unforced errors. Kvitova broke to level the set at 5-5 on her second opportunity, after another forehand miscue by Pliskova.
The combatants advanced to the tiebreak, and they seesawed back and forth en route to 4-4. Kvitova held her nerve, pounding a powerful wide serve to claim the crucial 5-4 lead and put the pressure on Pliskova’s serve. It was here that Pliskova capitulated, serving consecutive double faults to hand over the first set to the No.10 seed. Pliskova had six double faults in the set, which cost her dearly.
Kvitova maintained the momentum by breaking Pliskova with a forehand winner to kick off the second set. In the following game, a stunning backhand winner on game point gave Kvitova the 2-0 lead, and the former Madrid champion was off to the races.
"After the first set, I think I felt a little bit more relaxed," Kvitova admitted. "I was feeling a little bit better on the shots, on the rallies, which was nice, finally."
Pliskova continued to fight, as the former World No.1 had a nine-match winning streak of her own to defend as well. Pliskova reached 0-40 on Kvitova’s serve at 2-1, hoping to quickly even up the set, but Kvitova fended the three break points off with her typically powerful serve-and-forehand combination, and held for 3-1, maintaining her one-break lead.
After that game, neither player faced a break point until Pliskova served to stay in the match at 5-3. At 30-30, a backhand error by Pliskova gave Kvitova her first match point. Kvitova took her chance, whacking a crosscourt forehand which forced a final backhand error off the racquet of Pliskova, ending the fascinating encounter.