BIRMINGHAM, UK – We could be seeing early indications of Wimbledon favourites as the semi-final line-up is set, with two-time champion Petra Kvitova and former Wimbledon finalist Garbiñe Muguruza leading the charge.
Petra Kvitova [WC/7] v Lucie Safarova | Kvitova leads 9-0
Once more the Czechs are coming for the grass, as Fed Cup team-mates and great friends Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova clash for a spot in the Aegon Classic final for the first time.
Taking that even further, last year Kvitova bumped Safarova in the first round, and with such a loaded head-to-head, what did Sarafova make of her chances, after battling through injury (causing her to pull out of the doubles) and Daria Gavrilova’s resistance in an epic three-setter to kick the day’s quarter-final action off.
The former French Open finalist had to save set points and match points on her way to the finish line, along with some of the best rallies seen thus far this week.
Perhaps Safarova would one day like an easy route? She told reporters after her match: “I mean I don’t enjoy going from match point down, but it’s been just happening lately. But I was very pleased after my match against [Naomi] Osaka that it was an hour and ten minutes (Smiling).”
Her record against her fellow Czech and indeed on of the most popular players on the tour is not great, to put it mildly and carrying a thigh strain makes seeking her first win a bit of a challenge.
“[Kvitova]’s been playing great on grass, and obviously we’ve had a lot of matches against each other, and I’m still waiting for a victory. But I mean for me so far, great round on grass courts. I’m enjoying. Today was unbelievable match. And I hope I can be out there 100 percent tomorrow.”
It is true – Safarova comes in to Saturday’s semi-final with the semi-final in Nottingham under her belt, while Kvitova is riding high on just her second tournament back since a knife attack in December.
What looked like the jitters serving out the match against Kristina Mladenovic in the second quarter-final was perhaps also having to adjust to the far more blustery conditions than we have seen this week, with even match point coming on a lucky net-cord.
She said, in her post-match press conference: “I didn’t feel nervous, but maybe my body was a bit tired. But I felt like the wind came stronger and I couldn’t hold my serve and I wasn’t able to really hit it perfectly as before. So it was flying everywhere.
“I made two double faults, I think, and it’s difficult to play like on the grass with that when you have it in the mind. So I was glad that I was able to make it for 6-6, and then the tiebreak you have to really play every point and just wait how everything is going, which a little lucky in the end.”
While the fairy-tale ending could well be on for Kvitova, after many of her team around her feared she may never play again, much less be challenging for a final so soon, there was nothing but amusement that she faces her friend and team-mate once more on the Birmingham grass.
“I just went from the court and I went to physio room and I saw her there. And I just started to laugh and she was like, what’s happening? And I said, you think we are not playing many times together, like even on the grass? She said, yeah, last time here in Birmingham.
“I mean we practice a lot together. We know each other well from the Fed Cup. I mean she had a great run and momentum that year. She’s playing well on the grass. And I’m not sure. I just think that we know each other well, on the court as well. And sometimes the score looks a bit easier, but it’s not always like that and it’s about a few points in the set.
“That’s how I think it will be tomorrow as well. And she played great today. I mean epic match I have to say. And yeah, it will be interesting tomorrow with a lefty.”
Leftie match-ups always throw up crazy angles and this is where Kvitova excels. While Safarova has a lot of variety thanks to her continuing doubles prowess, Kvitova can still race up to the net rapidly, and her own use of angles has made it look that she was never away.
If Safarova was coming in fit, we might have felt this was a close one in the making, but the surface seems to be testing her physically, and it is hard not to see Kvitova walking out on Sunday.
Prediction: Kvitova in straight sets.
Garbiñe Muguruza v Ashleigh Barty | First Meeting
If the first two matches on quarter-final Friday were epic and great, sadly the bottom half of the draw was determined by retirements. Garbiñe Muguruza looked to have met her match with Coco Vandeweghe who started with the same aggressive resolve that she had when she dispatched Britain’s Johanna Konta with consummate ease.
She was, however, struggling with a foot injury tweaked in her opening round, and a quick turn of the ankle ruled her out, with Wimbledon just around the corner. Stating she would be having an MRI scan on Saturday, she said:
“I had tweaked my foot in the first round and was recovering. I mean I felt like out of ten I was pain wise three out of ten and did another move again first set. I got re-taped just to reinforce it, but pain was just couldn’t move anymore. It was more the injury itself caused the fall.”
Ashleigh Barty’s path to the semi-final was even quicker, with Giorgi retiring down 2-5 in the first set. Barty left the tour for an 18-month sojourn in the cricket world, but her return has been one of rising success, as she explained:
“I think for me taking that 18 months off was really important, and I think I was just having a mental refresh really and come back and we’ve had an amazing year so far starting back in singles, and I think it’s just clicked over a year now.
“So obviously really happy to be back on the grass as well; it’s where we started. So it’s great to be able to be in my first semi of a premier and hopefully we can play well tomorrow.”
In a first time meeting with former Wimbledon finalist Muguruza, how does the Spaniard do her homework ahead of the match?
She said: “I played her yesterday in doubles, so that gives me an idea a little bit. And I played her also a long, long time ago also in doubles. I saw her play these days in matches, so probably I will watch her a little bit now. She’s just super talented. That’s what I felt in the doubles.
“I feel that I’m doing something good because I’m winning and I’m keeping in the draw alive. So I’m happy because I came here early to prepare, and I trained — you know, I put hours there. So I’m happy that it’s working what our team, what we thought was going to be good for the tournament.”
Muguruza will rely on all her weapons working – the serve, big forehand and backhand down the line to counter Barty’s all-court game. She has demonstrated good fight this week, and she has the tools to hit Barty for six.
Prediction: Muguruza in three sets.
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