Kvitova starts title defense with revenge win over Konta
BIRMINGHAM, England (AP) Petra Kvitova began her title defense in Birmingham on Tuesday with a revenge win which also gave out a warning to other Wimbledon contenders.
The fourth-seeded Czech’s 6-3, 6-4 defeat of Johanna Konta not only came against the first British player to reach the Wimbledon women’s singles semifinals in almost 40 years in 2017, but also over an opponent who won the last time they met two years ago at Eastbourne.
Their meeting this time at the Nature Valley Classic was at a venue where Kvitova’s resourceful performance last year with a damaged playing left hand – after a knife attack at her home in the Czech Republic in December 2016 – proved that she would be able to play professional tennis again.
The penetration of her flat-hit driving on Tuesday, along with her ability to attack the net and the confidence with which she dealt with a difficult opening opponent, all marked Kvitova as a serious contender for Wimbledon, starting in less than two weeks.
”It was a big win for sure,” Kvitova said. ”But in the first round here we have to expect tough matches, and that is good because it makes you show good things from the beginning.”
Kvitova broke serve at the first attempt and, after losing this advantage, broke again with two of the fiercest forehand drives likely to be struck all week.
Konta fought hard and saved four set points, but soon Kvitova was motoring on into the second set with a break point in the second game which Konta saved with a sudden, neatly timed drop shot.
But seven games later, Kvitova’s constant serve-returning pressure brought its own reward. Twice it put Konta under extra pressure, and twice in a row it produced double faults. That left Kvitova to serve out for the match, which she concluded nicely with a drop shot approach and a sharp reflex volley.
”A lot has changed since we last played,” Kvitova said. ”Jo was on fire at Wimbledon and certainly knows how to play on grass – which I sometimes try to find out,” the two-time Wimbledon champion said.
”Luckily I found out today. Hopefully I am at a different level to last year. I missed the whole of the first half of last season, so I am glad to have been playing all this year. I have won four titles and I am happy with that.”
”I don’t feel under any pressure to win the title again here,” she said. ”But coming on to grass always gives me more energy.”
Kvitova next plays 25th-ranked Australian Daria Gavrilova.
Earlier, second-seeded Elina Svitolina, who came within two wins of becoming world No. 1 in January, recovered from a surprising stumble after leading by a set and 3-1. She eventually struck the ball more consistently to prevail 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 against Donna Vekic of Croatia.
Top-seeded Garbine Muguruza won more comfortably as she swept to a 6-1, 6-2 win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
The Russian had gained a result over the Wimbledon champion at Stuttgart in April when Muguruza retired with a back problem after losing the first set. Putting the record straight took less than an hour.
Muguruza next faces Alize Cornet of France, who outlasted Ekaterina Makarova 5-7, 6-4, 6-1.