Petra Kvitova is into her 3rd Qatar Total Open final in the last 4 years after making it past the in-form Jessica Pegula on Friday, and will play Garbiñe Muguruza for the trophy on Saturday, who secured her spot when Victoria Azarenka withdrew because of the back injury she sustained on Thursday.
I would love to know why I always play so well in Doha. I would like to play this well everywhere, but of course, sometimes this is not easy. Overall, I like the conditions. The ball flies nicely. The court is a little slower, but I have good rhythm for it. Petra Kvitova
Under the lights in Doha, Kvitova needed 78 minutes to move into the final, beating Pegula for the second time in as many meetings, following the Czech’s straight-set win in the 3rd round of last season’s US Open.
The left-hander played well in the windy conditions, beating the American qualifier, 6-4 6-4.
“I would love to know why I always play so well in Doha,” she joked after the match.” I would like to play this well everywhere, but of course, sometimes this is not easy.
“Overall, I like the conditions. The ball flies nicely. The court is a little slower, but I have good rhythm for it.”
Kvitova’s struck 26 winners, equalling her unforced error count, but it was enough to garner her 6 breaks of the Pegula serve.
“Today was so windy, and I’m not sure if it was a matter of tennis, but it was really about putting lot of balls into the court,” Kvitova said. “But then Jessica played really great, and I really have to play great, as well.”
Kvitova will attempt to defeat the red-hot Muguruza for a 5th consecutive time in a rematch of their thrilling 2018 final.
Unseeded, the Spaniard advanced without striking a ball after the 8th-seeded Azarenka withdrew from their semi-final.
The Belarusian struggled with a back issue during her win over Elina Svitolina in the quarters, but felt unable to take to the court against the in-form Muguruza.
“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,” Azarenka said in a statement. “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.”
Muguruza is therefore well-rested and near to the levels that took her to a World No 1 ranking and 2 Grand Slam titles.
“Just wishing [Azarenka] to recover,” Muguruza said. “I saw yesterday that she might be struggling.”
Kvitova is a 2-time Wimbledon champion and aiming to win her first title since Sydney in 2019, just shy of her 31st birthday, and against Pegula, the No 4 seed reeled off the final 4 games to advance.
“Just being in the final, for me, first of all, is great,” Kvitova said. “We’ve played against Garbiñe many times already, including a final in 2018 here, which was a roller-coaster.
“I know that she’s really in great form and playing really well. We will see, but it will be a nice match, for sure.
“We play similar games, so it will likely be about a few points, like it was in the past.”
27-year-old Pegula came through qualifying and did not drop a set in the main draw until Friday, dispatching Wang Qiang, former French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, and No 2 seed Karolina Pliskova to reach the biggest semi-final of her career, but she saw her run come to an end after her 28 unforced errors outpaced her 17 winners.
Kvitova held break leads of 2-1 and 4-3 in the first set but, each time, Pegula’s piercing groundstrokes were able to force errors from the hard-hitting Czech and pull her back on serve.
Breaking again to lead 5-4 with deep and powerful returns, Kvitova was finally able to consolidate in the next game, easing to a one-set lead.
Pegula picked up early leads in the second, moving ahead to 3-0 and 4-2 before Kvitova steered the set back in her favour.
A thunderous game, starting with a forehand winner and ending with an ace, brought Kvitova back to level terms at 4-4, and she used more big hitting to maintain momentum, ultimately winning the last 4 games of the match.
“Already at the US Open, I thought she played great,” Kvitova said. “Given the conditions, it’s tough to compare matches, and even to talk about tennis today at all!
“She’s improved a lot since last year, and is definitely playing really well.
“She definitely doesn’t seem like No. 44 in the rankings, which she showed here by beating Karolina and playing great matches at the Australian Open.
“She’ll really go up much higher in the rankings.”
Between swirling winds and an inspired opponent, Kvitova hardly had things her own way, falling behind after breaking to open the match, and emerging from a trio of service breaks to ultimately serve out the first set.
“When I see it’s windy, I just think to myself, ‘Oh no! It will be a tough day,’ and tough mentally, for sure,” she said.
“The opponents feel the same way; everyone likes smooth conditions with no sun or wind.
“It’s always the same on both sides for us, but even in the warm-up, I didn’t warm-up on the Center Court, it was even windier out on the grounds!
“At the beginning, we were still even but I was thinking, ‘This is impossible to play in,’ but somehow I was putting the ball in.
“It’s really tough because you have to really think about which way the wind is going, and you have to play a little bit smarter.
“A more consistent player will deal with the wind better, but there’s still a lot of adjustments.
“At one point, I didn’t see the ball, and it was right under my racket but I didn’t even touch it. I thought, ‘Uh oh, that’s embarrassing!’ But that’s how it is; sometimes I can’t do anything, and I’m just putting the ball down the middle and waiting for my opportunities.”
The second set saw Pegula take an even stronger stand, winning 12 of the first 14 points and shrugging off a break back to move within 2 games of a decider, but Kvitova regained her footing, clinching a crucial 9th game to break the qualifier and serve out her ticket to the final to love.
Despite the walkover from Azarenka, Muguruza has endured a tough passage, dethroning defending champion Aryna Sabalenka and avenging an Abu Dhabi defeat to Maria Sakkari en route to her second final of the year.
Kvitova’s toughest clash came in the quarter-finals, where she navigated through a second set hiccup to overcome Estonian Anett Kontaveit, 6-3 3-6 6-2.
Muguruza’s only losses this year have come to quality opposition in Sakkari, Ashleigh Barty at the Yarra Valley Classic, and Naomi Osaka at the Australian Open.
Remarkably, in her 3 matches this week, Muguruza has only double-faulted 4 times.
While Kvitova’s lefty-slider serve is a potent weapon, Muguruza’s return game is on song and, if the Spaniard can maintain her aggression and take some necessary risks with her immaculate backhand against the Czech arsenal, she has a real chance to avenge the 4 losses she has endured at her hands so far.
“I think it’s going to be a tough match,” Muguruza said. “We played here in another final three years ago, so just looking forward to playing that match and hopefully getting the trophy.”
It is Kvitova’s first final since the same tournament a year ago, when she was beaten by Aryna Sabalenka, while Muguruza, who moves into her 14th career final and second of 2021, is seeking her first title since Monterrey 2019, and first at 500/Premier level or above since Cincinnati 2017.
In Friday’s doubles final, No 2 seeds Nicole Melichar & Demi Schuurs beat Monica Niculescu & Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 2-6, [10-8].
The match went down to the wire before Melichar & Schuurs eked out the match tiebreak following an hour and a quarter of play.
It was the second title for the tandem, who paired to win on the clay courts of Strasbourg last autumn.
It is Melichar’s ninth WTA doubles title overall, while Schuurs is now up to 13 in her career.
Melichar & Schuurs were not broken in the opening frame as they swept to a one-set lead, but Niculescu & Ostapenko powered through the final 4 games of the second to level the match and set up the decisive match tiebreak.
There, Melichar & Schuurs swept to quadruple championship point at 9-5, but 2 winners and an unreturned Ostapenko serve let the unseeded pair fend off the first three.
Finally, the No 2 seeds converted their 4th chance after a netted service return by Ostapenko.