This is uncharted territory for Barty, who had only played one match at the China Open before this year (a 2017 defeat to Elina Svitolina); not so for Kvitova, who is into the quarterfinals in Beijing for the fifth time after having reached the final in 2014 (losing to Maria Sharapova) as well as the semifinals in 2013 and 2017 and the quarterfinals in 2016.
Both Barty and Kvitova benefited from a first-round bye in Beijing this week, having reached the semifinals in Wuhan last week (Barty losing to Aryna Sabalenka, Kvitova to Alison Riske). Barty didn’t have too much trouble in opening her campaign against Yulia Putintseva in the second round, scoring a straight-sets win, but things got a little more complicated in what turned out to be a frustrating encounter with Zheng Saisai in the second. Barty took the first set straightforwardly enough to lead 6-3, but after a fairly lengthy medical time-out from Zheng between sets to treat an abdominal issue, the Australian’s game went totally haywire and although she managed to serve her way out of trouble enough to take the second set to a tie-break, she ended up losing it as her unforced errors climbed.
Barty regrouped in the third set, claiming an early break of serve and managing to hold on to that advantage until the end, but it was never easy and the Australian was unusually grim-faced as she inched her way to a 6-3, 6-7(5), 6-2 win.
‘I played a pretty stupid set,’ Barty said of the second set afterwards. ‘Too many times I gave away cheap service games, to love, to 15.
‘Probably over 20 errors in that set, and cheap ones in rolls, in twos and threes in a row, which is disappointing. Not things that I like to do.’
Barty, one of four women already qualified for the WTA Finals Shenzhen, will hope to improve her break-point conversion rate in particular – she created 14 opportunities but only broke three times, although she saved all five break points she herself faced in the match – as she takes on Kvitova on Friday.
Kvitova, meanwhile, has not dropped a set so far in Beijing, recording impressive wins over Kristina Mladenovic 6-4, 6-4 and ninth seed Belinda Bencic – who had triumphed in their last encounter in Dubai – 6-3, 6-3 to reach the quarterfinals, coming back from a break down in the second set.
Bencic arguably did not play her best but I thought Kvitova turned in a really great performance in the 88-minute match, serving 13 aces (and admittedly six double faults) and sticking to her guns in terms of aggression on serve even when the momentum seemed to be turning against her in that second set.
‘I think from the beginning, we were both a bit nervous, but I think it was a solid match from both of us,’ Kvitova said.
‘I put in a lot of first serves, which helped me a lot, even if I was down a break in the second, which was pretty difficult mentally. She really went for her shots, but I was able to break her back. It was a good match from my side.’
After a strong week in Wuhan last week, which saw Kvitova – a two-time champion at the Premier-5 event – beat Polona Hercog, Dayana Yastremska and Sloane Stephens to reach the semifinals, it seems like the Czech is finally recovering her equilibrium after the left forearm injury which caused her to pull out of the French Open and Birmingham and certainly contributed to a fourth-round exit at Wimbledon and an underwhelming American hard-court swing (although Kvitova’s results during that part of the season are rarely very impressive).
Kvitova, currently in sixth place in the Porsche Road to Shenzhen, continues to edge closer to qualification for the season-ending championships by reaching the quarterfinals in Beijing – although three of the women she is competing with for the remaining four places, Naomi Osaka, Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens, have also done so.
Reaching the semifinals would only boost Kvitova’s Shenzhen chances immeasurably, and she does have a great record against Barty, winning four of their five previous encounters including two of the three they played this year, triumphing in the Apia International Sydney final and Australian Open quarterfinals. Barty won their last encounter in Miami, however, ousting Kvitova 7-6(6), 3-6, 6-2 on her way to the title.
‘Petra is always someone that I love to test myself against. She’s one of the best human beings on the WTA Tour,’ Barty said.
I’m inclined to think that the conditions in Miami, where Kvitova has never really played well, helped Barty; certainly the Australian is not playing tennis that’s anywhere near as clean as she was then. Kvitova has been serving really well in her last few matches and if she can produce another similar serving performance, she should be able to secure a place in the China Open semifinals for the fourth time.
Barty vs Kvitova China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Friday at 12.30pm local/5.30am BST
Barty vs Kvitova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Barty and Kvitova clash for fourth time in 2019 in Beijing
Can Petra Kvitova re-establish her dominance over Ashleigh Barty as they clash in the quarterfinals of the China Open on…
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