Powerful Petra Storms Sydney, Heather Wins Hobart
Niall Clarke, Tennis Atlantic
The week before a grand slam is always interesting and unpredictable. It often allows young players, journey women or just your average top 50 player to step up and win a title. The top players ‘tank’ or withdraw to preserve themselves for the upcoming grand slam event, thus making the draw a hell of a lot wider.
However one top player didn’t get the memo.
Petra Kvitova claimed her first title of 2015 by winning the APIA Sydney International.
Leading up to the final, most eyes were on the eventual runner up, Karolina Pliskova. The big hitting and big serving Czech displayed her powerful game throughout the week and showed everyone her enormous potential. However, she ran into someone who was a bit more powerful, more experienced and most importantly, more clutch.
Pliskova was looking good in the opening exchanges, breaking Kvitova in the opening game and having the opportunity to serve out the first set. It wasn’t to be though, as Petra’s big match experience started to kick in. The Wimbledon champion broke back at 5-4 and went on to win the first set in the tiebreaker; Advantage Kvitova. The fans were treated to some incredible points, and some wonderful shot making as the two Czechs exchanged. It was akin to a heavyweight boxing match with the powerful shots going back and fourth, but in the end it was experience that defeated youth. Kvitova won the second set tiebreak on the third time of asking to take the match and the Sydney title along with it.
The world number four has now reached a total of 15 WTA titles in her career, and has bounced back successfully after a disappointing semi-final loss to Timea Bacsinszky in Shenzhen. Kvitova also continued her winning streak over her fellow countrywomen, making it 15 straight wins over Czech players. Her last ‘intra-national’ loss was against Lucie Safarova in 2012 on the clay courts of Madrid. Petra has no doubt re-established her confidence and put herself among the potential winners of the Australian Open next week.
It was Kvitova who reigned supreme, but the champion won’t be the only one making the headlines. Pliskova can be extremely proud of her efforts this week, as she not only made the final, but also established herself as one of the players to look out for this year. The world number 22 may have been fortunate that Simona Halep withdrew from the tournament, but it’s not like it mattered to Pliskova. A double bagel, a golden game, and a straight sets win over Angelique Kerber saw her to the final where she eventually came up short. The Czech began her rise in 2014, where she started as the world number 71. Two titles and three finals later, she managed to climb up to number 22 in the world. Pliskova is no doubt a player to watch at Melbourne and throughout the year.
Sydney didn’t fail to disappoint for yet another year. Bagels, a 3 a.m. finish, seeds dropping out left right and centre, and all the drama you would expect from the WTA. And that is only half of what went on this week.
The annual pre-Australian Open tournament in Hobart has often thrown up surprise winners, and now you can add Heather Watson to that list.
The Brit claimed her second WTA title with a routine 6-3, 6-4 win over Madison Brengle in the final. Watson was dominant all week, as she didn’t drop her set on her way to the title, and that includes all the seeded players she had to face. The unseeded player defeated (5) Sloane Stephens, (9) Roberta Vinci and (8) Alison Riske en route to the final against qualifier Brengle.
It was a clutch performance from the plucky Brit as she saved 12 out of 14 break points during the match, and held serve in her last 7 service games. Watson became the first British player to win a title since 1988 when she triumphed in Osaka just over 2 years ago, and now she’s added the Hobart title to her achievements. It has been quite a journey for the 22 year old; last year she had to re-climb the rankings after Glandular Fever saw her slip outside the top 100. The Brit can now feel she is back to her best with her victory this week.
“When I won Osaka in 2012, it was more of a surprise, kind of,” Watson stated post match. “But here, I feel like I belong.”
It was also a great week for the finalist, Madison Brengle. She came all the way from qualifying to the final, looking to repeat Muguruza’s run at this event last year. However, unlike the Spaniard, the American fell at the last hurdle. Brengle’s thrilling 6-7(6), 7-5, 7-6(2) victory over former Hobart champion Mona Barthel was one of the highlights of the week. She came back from 4-1 down in the second set and 5-2 down in the third set to win the match.
The Australian Open warm-ups didn’t disappoint, and that leaves us very excited for the first grand slam of the year. Be sure to check out the previews and reviews on Tennis Atlantic.