With the head-to-head poised at 3-3, Petra Kvitova and Madison Keys meet for the first time since 2016 in the semifinals of the Brisbane International on Saturday.
Petra Kvitova vs Madison Keys is live from Brisbane on Saturday 11 January at 2.30pm local/4.30am GMT
There’s definitely a consistent theme in the Brisbane International semifinals, and it’s big-serving, big-hitting shotmakers, with Naomi Osaka, Karolina Pliskova, Kvitova and Keys forming an all-star final four.
Kvitova, the sole left-hander among the bunch, is one of two players in the semifinals to have won the Premier-level title before, triumphing in 2011. Although the Czech failed to win back-to-back matches in Brisbane on two subsequent appearances, she has been increasingly successful in Australia in recent years, winning the Apia International Sydney title in 2015 and 2019 and, of course, reaching the Australian Open final in 2019, losing to Naomi Osaka.
With many points to defend over the coming weeks, therefore, it’s a boost to the world no. 7 that she has performed so well in Brisbane this week. The second half of Kvitova’s 2019 season was blighted, after a bright start, by a left hand injury that caused her to pull out of the French Open and really impacted her throughout the rest of the year, culminating in an 0-3 finish at the WTA Finals Shenzhen.
But it’s been a good start to 2020 for Kvitova in Brisbane, where she began by battling to a three-set victory over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, a former finalist at the Queensland Tennis Centre, before beating a pair of qualifiers – and if world no. 129 Ludmila Samsonova was not too much of a threat in the second round, the same is definitely not true of world no. 53 Jennifer Brady in the quarterfinals.
Brady may have been a qualifier, but she was on a brilliant run in Brisbane, showcasing all the effects of a hard-working off-season as she came through qualifying without dropping a set before defeating Maria Sharapova and world no. 1 Ashleigh Barty, her first victory over a top-10 player in eight attempts. Kvitova had been pushed to three sets by Brady in their only previous meeting in Dubai last February, and the first set was so hard-fought that I thought Friday’s quarterfinal would probably go to three sets as well. But after breaking Brady at the end of the set to lead 6-4, Kvitova really opened her shoulders in the second set and pulled away, breaking Brady twice more and wrapping up a 6-4, 6-2 victory in which she struck eight aces, saved all four break points she faced (which all came at the very beginning of the match) and, most impressively, won 28 of 30 points played behind her first serve.
Will Kvitova be able to maintain her stellar level of the second set as she takes on Madison Keys in Saturday’s semifinals?
Eighth-seeded Keys is the only player not to have dropped a set on her way to the final four in Brisbane, although that doesn’t mean she hasn’t faced some tough opposition: Keys started out with a 6-3, 6-2 win over qualifier Marie Bouzkova before ousting Samantha Stosur, who had taken out Angelique Kerber in the first round, 7-5, 6-3. Compatriot Danielle Collins, who had defeated Elina Svitolina in the first round and dropped just three games in two matches, awaited Keys in the quarterfinal but it was the higher-ranked American who dominated their encounter, winning 6-4, 6-1 in just under 70 minutes and, like Kvitova, losing just two points behind her first serve.
Keys had only won one match in three previous appearances in Brisbane but was an Australian Open semifinalist in 2015 and quarterfinalist in 2018, making the fourth round or better in Melbourne for the past four years; she also made the Apia International Sydney semifinals in 2014, so clearly performs well in these kinds of conditions.
The powerful American had a bit of an odd season in 2019, which saw her go 28-15 and win two titles – the Volvo Car Open in Charleston in April, and the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati in August – as well as making the French Open quarterfinals, but oddly fail to be a factor at many of the biggest events of the year, including Wimbledon where she lost in the second round to Polona Hercog and Indian Wells, Miami, Madrid and Toronto, at all of which she lost in the first round.
Still only 24, the 2016 US Open finalist should be coming into her prime and it will be interesting to see whether she can compete more consistently in 2020, but she has certainly made a great start in Brisbane, where she will be hoping to reach the tenth WTA Tour singles final of her career.
With two such powerful, big-serving players, both of whom have a tendency to inconsistency that’s partly inbuilt in their high-risk games but also inveterate, it’s a difficult match to call because everything can depend on who is feeling the ball better on the day.
Their head-to-head backs up this unpredictability: Kvitova and Keys are 3-3, with their last match featuring two tie-break sets, but they have not met since 2016, which was the best year of Keys’s career so far and saw her beat Kvitova twice (although the Czech also got a win, denying Keys a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics).
In the intervening time, Kvitova has of course had to take a leave of absence from the sport under traumatic circumstances as she suffered career-threatening knife injuries during an botched burglary at her home, but in truly astonishing fashion, she has come back as good as ever, while I’m not sure Keys has progressed much as a player in the same period. It’s tough to call, and you might be wise to expect three sets, but Kvitova is so hard to stop once she gets on a roll and Keys, although a real threat, is also a relatively comfortable match-up for her. Expect the Czech to make another final in Australia.