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Connecticut Open Tennis Finding her comfort zone

August 23, 2018

NEW HAVEN — She has become Anne Worcester’s tournament rock. A player that annually refuses to use the ‘I-need-to-take-the-week-before-the-U.S. Open-off’ excuse and makes the return to the Connecticut Open much like the swallows yearly return to Capistrano.

Petra Kvitova is making her seventh consecutive trip to the Elm City, eighth overall and is bidding for her fourth tournament championship here, a feat that would put her in the rarefied air with Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki.

And thanks to a hard fought, three-set 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 victory over qualifier Zarina Diyas Wednesday night, Kvitova is just three victories from that fourth Connecticut Open crown. Kvitova will face Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro in Thursday’s quarterfinal match on Stadium Court at 7 p.m.

After rolling to the first set in just 25 minutes, Diyas rallied to even things up in the second set. With Kvitova serving for the match at 5-4, Diyas broke serve at love, held to take a 6-5 lead and then broke Kvitova again to send things to a decisive third set.

There, Kvitova responded, breaking Diyas to grab the initial lead, held serve to go in front 2-0 and then, broke Diyas again to open a 3-0 advantage. Another hold of serve by Kvitova made it 4-0 and it was, finally, lights out for Diyas.

Kvitova reeled off the final five games of the first set — winning an eye-opening 89 percent of her first serve points — to take early control of the match. Overall, the world’s No. 5 player won seven games in a row as she advanced into the quarterfinals, the sixth time she’s advanced this far in New Haven.

Nine times, from 2008 to 2016, Wozniacki came to New Haven, first flirting with the Yale football team and giving Worcester a mega-watt marketing tool. But she hasn’t been back these last two years. Before that, it was Lindsay Davenport, who showed up seven times between 1998 and 2006, giving the then-Pilot Pen, a major boost.

Now, it’s Kvitova, who comes back year after year, immersing herself in everything the tournament has to offer.

“This is a special place for me,” Kvitova said after beating Agnieszka Radwanska on Tuesday. “When you play well in a special place it gives you confidence every time you are here.”

Because of a 3 hour, 20-minute, three-set match — that included two rain delays — between Ekaterina Makarova and Magdalena Rybarikova, a 2:46 three-set match between Aryna Sabalenka and Daria Gavarilova and a 1:24 straight set match between Anett Kontaviet and Monica Puig that turned the day session into night, Kvitova didn’t begin play on Stadium Count until almost 8:30 — 8:27 to be exact. And despite that 25-minute opening set, Kvitova needed nearly two hours to finally knock off Diyas.

Kvitova is bidding for her sixth WTA title of the season, already posting victories at St. Petersburg, Doha, Prague, Madrid and Birmingham. Overall, this was her 44th win (against just 10 losses) and in New Haven, Kvitova is a sparkling 21-4.

celsberry@ctpost.com

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