Although Kvitova was until recently the only woman to have won the Wuhan Open more than once, and owns three titles at Premier Mandatory level (all coming in Madrid), she has never yet claimed the trophy at the China Open. But the two-time Wimbledon champion has enjoyed some great results at this tournament over the years, reaching the final in 2014 when she finished runner-up to Maria Sharapova and making the semifinals in 2013 (losing to Jelena Jankovic) and 2017 (losing to Caroline Garcia).
Kvitova lost her opening match in Beijing to Daria Gavrilova last year, but will be hoping to do much better in 2019 – not least because she is still trying to secure her place at the WTA Finals Shenzhen. The Czech currently sits in sixth place with four players qualified, and has a 400-point lead on her nearest competition, Elina Svitolina (assuming Serena Williams does not play), but she still has not edged over that qualifying line and will hope to do so this week.
Kvitova certainly belongs at the WTA Finals this year after having won the 26th and 27th titles of her glittering career in Sydney and Stuttgart, as well as making the Australian Open and Dubai finals. But there’s no denying that her season got badly off track due to the left forearm injury that flared up in Rome, saw her pull out of the French Open and Birmingham and certainly contributed to an early exit from Wimbledon and another at the US Open (not that Kvitova needs any help making early exits from majors).
Returning to action in Wuhan last week, Kvitova looked a lot more like herself than she has done in a long time, although she still wore the sleeve. She didn’t drop a set on the way to the semifinals, recording solid wins over three good opponents: Polona Hercog, Sloane Stephens and Dayana Yastremska – and only Stephens of the three played poorly. And although Kvitova fell in the semifinals to the unseeded Alison Riske, Riske is on fantastic form at the moment and it was a tight encounter which saw Kvitova fall 5-7, 5-7.
Thank you Wuhan for always bringing out the best in me. I wanted to go further but it wasn’t to be.
There is reason to be optimistic about Kvitova’s chances of playing good tennis in Beijing, in other words, although her draw is not great, with Dubai champion Belinda Bencic awaiting the winner of her second-round clash against Kristina Mladenovic.
Kvitova, as a Wuhan Open semifinalist, was one of only four players granted first-round byes, and hence Mladenovic has already opened her account in Beijing with a 6-3, 6-2 win over Australian Open semifinalist Danielle Collins. It was just Mladenovic’s second match win in singles in seven China Open appearances.
Ranked inside the world’s top 10 around this time two years ago, Mladenovic comes into this year’s China Open ranked world no. 46, having at least made it back into the world’s top 50 after dropping as low as world no. 66 in April. Ever since the Frenchwoman, who seems capable of winning so much more than she routinely does, teamed up with new coach Sascha Baijin, it’s felt like a return to her superb early 2017 form has been on the cards, but it hasn’t quite materialized yet.
Mladenovic has compiled a 26-24 win-loss record through 2019 in singles, with her best results a quarterfinal appearance in Rome in May – beating Amanda Anisimova, Caroline Garcia, Belinda Bencic and Ashleigh Barty on the way – and a semifinal appearance at the Premier-level Zhengzhou Open three weeks ago via victories over Garcia (again) and world no. 3 Elina Svitolina.
Mladenovic’s win over Svitolina was her third top-10 victory of the season after beating Naomi Osaka in Dubai and Barty in Rome – can she get a fourth as she takes on Kvitova on Tuesday?
It doesn’t look too likely if the history between them is anything to go by. Kvitova has a 7-1 record against Mladenovic, with the French player’s sole triumph coming all the way back in 2013 on indoor hard courts at the now defunct Paris Indoors. In six subsequent meetings, Kvitova has won every set, including in their 2019 meetings in Madrid and at Wimbledon.
Weapons like the ones Mladenovic commands must always be respected, because the French player is absolutely capable of beating even the best in the world on her day thanks to her big serve, booming forehand and athleticism in general. But Mladenovic’s days come rarely, and as erratic as Kvitova is, the Frenchwoman is quite a comfortable match-up for her. Kvitova served well in Wuhan and looked more comfortable than she has done in a while, and should be well up to the task of opening her China Open campaign with a victory on Tuesday.
Kvitova vs Mladenovic China Open tennis is live from Beijing on Tuesday at 1pm local/6am BST
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