Connecticut Open Kvitova back in the groove
NEW HAVEN — Watching Petra Kvitova paint the lines with winners and keep Agnieszka Radwanska on the defensive with her booming serve, it wasn’t evident that her career was in question not long ago.
Kvitova, who has overcome plenty of adversity in her career, was in top form at a venue she always enjoys visiting — the Connecticut Tennis Center.
A three-time Connecticut Open champion, the third-seeded Kvitova began her journey toward a fourth New Haven title by posting an impressive 6-1, 7-6 (3) win over Radwanska of Poland in the tournament’s opening round on Monday night.
The 28-year-old lefty from Czech Republic who is the WTA’s fifth-ranked player, advanced to the Round of 16, where she will play qualifier Zarina Diyas from Kazakhstan Wednesday.
Kvitova survived a home invasion in 2016 in which she was attacked by a deranged intruder with a knife. The attack resulted in severe injuries and cuts on her dominant left hand.
Yet she’s come back in a big way. Entering the Connecticut Open, Kvitova had won a WTA-best five titles this year, bringing her career victory total to 25 (fifth among active players).
Monday’s match between Kvitova and Radwanska marked the 13th time the longtime friends met in their respective careers. Kvitova, who has defeated Radwanska eight times, fell to Radwanska in the 2016 Connecticut Open semifinals.
“I knew it would be a tough first-round match,” Kvitova said. “I saw the field and saw how tough it is. I knew this was going to be a very competitive tournament.”
In the tiebreaker, Kvitova won the first three points, the third of which was the result of a powerful forehand winner. An ace and a winner pulled Radwanska to within 3-2, but Kvitova gathered herself, closing the match out with a forehand winner and a cross-court forehand winner.
Currently holding a record of 43-10 this season, Kvitova used her strong serve to her advantage as the match progressed.
“Luckily, I found my rhythm in the second set and tiebreaker,” she said. “My serve got better during the match and I was able to step it up. I played it slow with my serve in the second set and it started working well for me.”
Radwanska, the 2016 Connecticut Open champion, rebounded from a shaky first set by cutting down on her errors and displaying an effective serve. Trailing 5-4 in the second set, Kvitova put away a short ball, then posted a winner down the line, making it 5-all. After Radwanska held serve the ensuing game, Kvitova forced a tiebreaker by breezing through the 12th game of the set, sealing it with a 100 mile-per-hour ace.
“I’m glad I was able to win it in two, I didn’t want to be out on the court any longer with Agnieszka,” Kvitova said. “Down 3-1 in the second set, I was looking for a chance to break. That opportunity didn’t come, but I took advantage of my chances in the tiebreaker, which I’m glad I was able to do.”
Converting several break points, Kvitova took the opening set in an efficient 29 minutes. While Radwanska was a familiar foe, Kvitova doesn’t know what to expect from Diyas.
“I played her a couple of times, but it was a long time ago,” said Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion. “I don’t remember much about her, but I know she’s a smaller player who moves well. It’s going to be another tough match.”
For her career, Kvitova is 20-4 at the friendly confines of New Haven
“This is a great venue that I always enjoy playing at,” Kvitova said. “I’ve been a champion three times here, so it’s a special place for me. When you play good at a certain place, it gives you a lot of confidence every time you are there.”
A LEGENDS SIGHTING
It was turn-back-the-clock time for former tennis greats Linsday Davenport and James Blake Monday night.
Davenport and Blake, both of whom had their share of memorable matches at the Connecticut Tennis Center, returned to New Haven Monday to compete in a mixed doubles legends exhibition match on Stadium Court.
Blake, a former Fairfield resident, and Davenport each paired up with a collegiate player from Yale University. They took the court following Kvitova and Radwanska’s night matchup. Davenport teamed up with Yale student Michael Sun, while Blake formed a doubles team with Yale’s Caroline Dunleavy, a Darien resident.
“I don’t play much tennis, but I’ll do my best out there,” a smiling Davenport said prior to the match. “Anne (Worcester) and I put the hard-court press on James to be here and we are so happy that he’s here tonight. It should be a lot of fun.”
Davenport, 42, won 55 WTA tournaments during her esteemed career, including three Grand Slams (Australian Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open). Currently the coach of American standout player Madison Keys, Davenport likes what she sees from the American competitors.
“American women’s tennis has been on the uptick, which is great,” Davenport said. “A lot of strong players are coming up in the U.S. — there’s a pipeline of great talent of players ages 15-and-up. The next few years are really important to their development.”
Monday, Davenport returned to a site where she enjoyed great success. She won women’s singles titles in New Haven in 1997 and 2005, advancing to the finals on numerous occasions.
“I lost in so many finals, so winning it in 2005 was more of a relief,” Davenport said. “In 1999 (a loss to Venus Williams in the finals) it was extremely exciting and in 2007 I played here in New Haven in my first match since I had a baby.”