The two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova braved tricky conditions and a tricky opponent to reach the Doha final yet again.
On Friday, at the Khalifa International Tennis and Squash Complex, Kvitova kept her calm on a windy evening as she ended the giant-killing run of American qualifier Jessica Pegula in 78 minutes, beating the American 6-4, 6-4 to reach the final of Qatar total Open for the third consecutive time.
She will face Garbine Muguruza in a rematch of the 2018 final, after Victoria Azarenka withdrew from their semifinal due to a back injury.
The Czech, who turns 31 on Monday, came from 0-3 and 2-4 down in the second set to secure a crucial victory and a meeting with Spain’s Muguruza, whom she beat in the 2018 final. It’s her first final since she won her 27th career title in Stuttgart nearly two years ago.
“I have the best memories of this court,” Kvitova said after a win appreciated by a small number of fans who were allowed into the stadium, due to Covid-19 restrictions.
“It’s been a while since I played a final, so I’m really looking forward to it.
“Today when I woke up it was fine, then I saw sand everywhere from my window so I was like ‘uh oh’. It was really tricky, really tough today, it was just about putting the ball into the court as much as possible. I’m really glad that I found a way,” said the lanky Czech, who is making her seventh appearance in the Doha tourney.
The wind made life difficult for both players throughout the match and both were under pressure on their serve, with 10 breaks in all. The left-handed Kvitova served out for the opening set but soon found herself 3-0 down to World No 44 Pegula, who had come through qualifying and taken out Jelena Ostapenko and Qiang Wang, and stunned second seed Karolina Pliskova to reach her first WTA Tour semi-final.
But from 2-4 down, Kvitova used her experience, cutting out the errors and forcing Pegula into mistakes. After breaking to get back on serve, the two-time Wimbledon champion won a brilliant long rally to break again for 5-4 and she then served out to love to reach the final.
It was Kvitova’s second win over Pegula in their two meetings, following the Czech’s straight-set win in the third round of last season’s US Open.
Kvitova hit 26 winners equaling her unforced error count, while Pegula’s 28 unforced errors outpaced her 17 winners and dented her cause.
However, Kvitova credited Pegula, the first ever qualifier to reach the semi-finals in Doha, for her efforts.
“She is improving, since last year,” she said. “I played her in the US Open then, it was already a tough one and since then she has had a lot of success. She is a very solid player from the baseline and played some good volleys too.”
Talking about the final, the former champion said the serve will be a key factor tomorrow.
“I know Garbine is serving very well even in the wind, so the conditions don't matter that much. She likes to play here, as well. That’s what she showed already this week. So it will be a little bit about the serve and return, for sure.
“I have the best memories for this court and I'm looking forward to the final. I didn’t play against her for the last three years, so yeah, it will be great,” she said.
Earlier, Azarenka withdrew from her semifinal against Muguruza due to a back injury, she sustained during her quarterfinal win over top seed Elina Svitolina. The Belarusian is a two-time champion in Doha in 2012 and 2013, as well as runner-up to Lucie Safarova in 2015.
Azarenka said in a statement: “Unfortunately, the pain in my back that I experienced during yesterday's match has not gone away enough in order for me to be able to compete tonight. I have loved being back here in Doha this week, and want to thank the tournament and everyone involved with the organization of this great event for hosting us and making it possible to play during these challenging times.
“I am very appreciative of being awarded a wildcard to compete here this week, and I am looking forward to being back in Doha again next year. Lastly, wishing all the remaining players in the draw the best of luck for the remainder of the tournament.”
As a result, the unseeded Muguruza moved into her 14th career final and second of 2021 so far. The Spaniard was runner-up to Ashleigh Barty at the Yarra Valley Classic a month ago and will be seeking her first title since Monterrey 2019, and first at 500/Premier level or above since Cincinnati 2017.
“Just wishing (Azarenka) to recover. I saw yesterday that she might be struggling,” Muguruza said.
“I think it’s going to be a tough match,” Muguruza said, looking forward to her upcoming tilt with Kvitova. “We played here in another final three years ago, so just looking forward to playing that match and hopefully getting the trophy.”