NEW YORK, NY, USA -- Petra Kvitova's 2017 comeback has led her to the second US Open quarterfinal appearance of her career.
The No.13-seeded Czech dispatched reigning Wimbledon champion and No.3 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain, 7-6(3), 6-3, in an awe-inspiring slugfest under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Sunday night.
In her post-match press conference, Kvitova called the match a "great fight. I mean, I struggle a little bit from the beginning. I was little bit probably, you know, rushing from the beginning, so I just need to really try be a little bit more calm, play some rallies...Won the first, which I think was kind of the key of the match."
Both players have struggled at the US Open in the past: this is the only major where Kvitova has never made the semifinals, while Muguruza had never advanced past the second round prior to this year. But both were in imperious form this week, neither having dropped a set en route to this fourth-round encounter.
The two had battled three times before, with Kvitova winning the last two meetings, both in 2016. This was the first match between them in a Grand Slam event, which could have caused one to ignore the head-to-head, but Kvitova claimed her third straight win over Muguruza, rebounding from a break down in the first set.
Muguruza started the match in front, breaking for 3-1 as Kvitova struggled with the Spaniard's heavy hitting from both sides. Muguruza served well during this stretch, making it through the first games of the match unbothered when she stepped up to the line.
But Kvitova suddenly clicked on her highly praised forehand, and hit screamers off that side to break Muguruza and get back on serve at 4-3. Muguruza’s unforced errors started to rise dramatically, and she faced break points at both 4-4 and 5-5, Kvitova converting in the latter game to serve for the set.
But Kvitova faltered, hitting two errors early in the game and a double fault on break point, which sent the opening frame into a tiebreak. Muguruza took a 2-0 lead due to two Kvitova unforced errors, but the Czech dominated from there, serving well and hitting powerful forehands. Muguruza double-faulted to provide Kvitova with three set points, and she clinched the set with an overhead on her first.
"It wasn't really nice when I couldn't serve the set," admitted Kvitova. "That was really big game from my side 6-5. Didn't start well in the tiebreak as well. I was glad I was just trying to stay in the rallies."
Muguruza opened the second set with a quick break for 1-0, but inopportune errors by the Spaniard gave Kvitova the break back immediately. Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion, cruised on serve from there up to 5-2, and had a match point in that game on the Muguruza serve, which she did not take after she hit a backhand error.
Muguruza made one last push on Kvitova's serve at 5-3, gaining three break points in the game. But the first two were lost due to more unforced errors, and Kvitova's celebrated serve-forehand combo saved the third. Two points later, a final Muguruza forehand unforced error gave Kvitova the victory, sending her into her first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the US Open two years ago.
Muguruza credited her opponent in her post-match press conference.
"Even though I was winning 4-1, I think she was playing great," admitted the Spaniard. "With the past of the matches, I think she was playing even better. So, you know, I felt like she was superior today. You know, great for her. She played very good."
Both players were hitting bruising groundstrokes throughout the rallies, and the unforced error count was high on both sides. But Kvitova was hitting with greater velocity on the important points, and though she had 42 unforced errors to Muguruza's 25, the Czech had over triple the winners, 24 to 7, and wrested further control of the match as it progressed.
Muguruza had her chances throughout the match, but was a woeful 3-for-12 on break points. Part of that was due to clutch serving by Kvitova, especially once she leveled the first set. Kvitova was getting a ho-hum 55 per cent of her first serves in, but she won an excellent 78 per cent of those points.
Kvitova will now face two-time US Open champion Venus Williams, the No.9 seed, in the quarterfinals. Kvitova has a solid record against Williams, leading the head-to-head 4-1, and it will likely be another stirring, hard-hitting contest in Flushing Meadows.
"I think that she's playing amazing on the majors this year," Kvitova said about Williams. "I mean, she is really playing very, very well on the big stages. She played the final of Wimbledon. She's a champion. It's what we all know.
"We always had tough battles. But I will try my best. I mean, she has a big serve, big server of course. She has something special which the other players doesn't have. I will try to play again probably, similar game as today."