ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Top seed Petra Kvitova was nearly untouchable in her opening match at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, winning in two sets against former World No.1 Victoria Azarenka in their highly anticipated second-round clash.
After a dominant performance in the opening set, Kvitova saw a 5-1 lead slip away in the second as Azarenka mounted a late comeback effort, but the Czech dug herself out of trouble in the end to win 6-2, 7-6(3).
“I’ve just come from Melbourne, I’ve just hit for the first time today at my warm-up and played the match today,” Kvitova told press afterwards. “I think I played it very well, it’s important. I’m very happy to be here.
“The crowd is amazing as always. I really love to come back and play here. It’s a beautiful tournament and I love playing indoors.”
Back in St. Petersburg to defend her title, Kvitova was quick to put her tough Australian Open final loss firmly behind her. She was a set away from adding a third Grand Slam title to her name in Melbourne - and ascend to the WTA’s World No.1 ranking for the first time. Instead, she fell to an on-fire Naomi Osaka in three sets, 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4.
Kvitova took no days off, and the tournament’s top seed was right back in action at the Sibur Arena on Wednesday, facing off against longtime rival Azarenka in the second round. It was the pair’s eighth career meeting, but the first since 2015 with Kvitova owning the 4-3 edge in their head-to-head record.
It was Kvitova who held serve first in a grueling opening set that featured six breaks of serve in total - including four in a row to start the set. The Czech’s strong serving stood up under Azarenka’s relentless attack, getting the front foot in most rallies to earn the first hold at 3-2, fighting off two break points in the process.
From there it was all Kvitova, who was firing winners from all angles and reeling off the next three games in a row to close out the set.
She looked to be closing in on the finish line rapidly as she started the second set with an early lead to open up a 3-0 lead. Azarenka held serve for the first time to get on the scoreboard at 3-1 - but Kvitova quickly broke once again to extend her lead to a daunting 5-1.
Serving for the match, the errors started to creep in for Kvitova, who held a match point but double faulted it away - and Azarenka pounced on the letdown to fight her way back in the contest.
Azarenka’s aggressive game was finally clicking as she earned both breaks back, bringing the pressure to Kvitova and finally leveling the score at 5-5. The players stayed evenly matched heading into the tiebreak, but Kvitova found her second wind to reel off five points in a row and stop Azarenka’s momentum, winning the match after an hour and 40 minutes on court.
“Unfortunately, I couldn’t convert match point earlier,” Kvitova lamented. “I made a double fault, I really don’t know why, but it happened. I really wanted to finish it earlier, but unfortunately I had to fight back in the second set and then I did quite well in tie-break.”
Kvitova was in nearly-untouchable form throughout most of the straight sets win, raining down 40 winners to Azarenka’s 14. Her booming serve was firing on all cylinders as well, striking nine aces and serving at 75% - crucial numbers in a match that had 18 break opportunities on offer across both sets.
Through to the quarterfinals in St. Petersburg , the two-time Wimbledon winner Kvitova will face either No.8 seed Donna Vekic or Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, a lucky loser, for a spot in the final four.