BIRMINGHAM, UK – Defending champion Petra Kvitova will face Wimbledon semi-finalist Magdalena Rybarikova in the Nature Valley Classic final.
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Petra Kvitova  v Magdalena Rybarikova | H2H: Kvitova leads 5-1
It will be another battle against a good friend for unseeded Magdalena Rybarikova as she takes on two-time Wimbledon champion, and defending Nature Valley Classic champion, Petra Kvitova.
Having edged out another good friend in Barbora Strycova, it is another ‘Czech mate’ over the net as we are set for a real treat of two grass-courters to do battle. Birmingham has a special place in the heart of the Slovakian – she won her first WTA tour level title here in 2009.
“It was a huge moment obviously because I remember Sharapova was here, Li Na was here that year. I would never say I could win this tournament. So, yeah, I was very young and kind of didn’t know what to expect. It was my first final and I managed to win. It was a huge moment for my career and then I realised I had quite a good game for grass.”
She has dropped just one set in a battle against Kristina Mladenovic, but otherwise has looked very solid – great movement and placement, court coverage and grass court nouse.
In Kvitova, she faces a very relaxed defending champion. Coming back after the horrific knife attack that almost ended her career in just her second tournament, she never expected to walk away the winner. And yet she does not feel the pressure now that we are very firmly back in business as usual mode, as she explained after her second round match.
Kvitova said: “I always feel kind of happiness when I’m playing on the grass actually. I do feel it here as well. Probably I thought I’m going to feel some pressure to defend the title, but I don’t. It’s kind of nice to have those feels and be more relaxed, which I do not expect. So probably that’s why I’m kind of not really stressing too much about matches and the nerves in the matches. So that’s good.”
The Czech is yet to drop a set here and has been impressive when the chips have been down, notably some great serving in the key moments in her semi-final against Mihaela Buzarnescu.
The pair are close friends, and perhaps two of the best grass-courters in action at the moment, so it looks like we are in for a treat.
Rybarikova said: “Petra is really one of my best friends also on tour. She’s really amazing girl. We know each other so long. It’s going to be quite funny to play her. The funny thing is that we played against each other only in semifinals or finals. So that’s pretty funny. I only managed to win one. So Petra, when she’s on fire, you can go shake her hand and say, Okay, I just want to leave from here. She plays absolutely amazing.
“For me, Petra is one of the best players when she is playing really on fire. So we will see how it’s going to be her day tomorrow. Hopefully she is not going to be on fire. But if she is, then for me it’s a great tournament. I will try my best. During practice we played here today. It as quite okay. But, you know, during the match, it’s going to be something totally different. Like I said, she’s a really great player and she’s the favourite of this match.”
Kvitova last faced Rybarikova in New Haven (incidentally the last time she defended a title), and indeed they have only ever faced each other in the deep stages of tournaments.
She said: “I think it will be fun for both of us. We are friends. We are watching the football every night. We know each other pretty long already. We spend some years on the tour together. I think we kind of grew in the rankings together.
“We played some doubles, so it was always being fun. She’s a fun girl. She’s playing fun game on the grass as well, tricky game. We practice here once as well. It will be nice. I think it’s nice to see someone who you are friends with in the final.”
For such a tall unit, Rybarikova’s movement is mightily impressive – her court coverage is not just rapid, but elegant to boot. Her range and touch at the net did a lot of the damage against Strycova in the semi-final, and combined against Kvitova’s leftie-serve advantage, powerful ground-strokes and her clever use of angles and trying for the lines means we are in for a master-class of grass-court tennis.
Rybarikova’s run to the semi-final of Wimbledon was one of the more endearing stories of the year, and after an earlier than expected exit in Nottingham, she really has taken to the grass here.
It is hard not to pick against a two-time Slam champion, but this could be another three setter for the Czech if she wants to get her hands on the trophy. We can definitely see Rybarikova coming out swinging, because all the pressure (regardless of she feels it or not) will be on Kvitova.
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