Birmingham, England (AP) — Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova beat Lucie Safarova in the Aegon Classic semifinals on Saturday to reach the first final since her playing hand was injured in a knife attack at her home.
This is Kvitova’s first grass-court final since her triumph at 2014 Wimbledon, though this significant achievement was tinged with anti-climax as Safarova quit with a right thigh strain after only eight games. Kvitova was leading 6-1, 1-0.
Nevertheless, Kvitova hit her groundstrokes with pace and accuracy, especially from the forehand side.
In the final, the Czech leftie will play Ashleigh Barty, an Australian who was impressive in containing former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Whatever happens, Kvitova was already delighted with her progress.
“The hand is good, which is the best news I could have,” she said. “I am not feeling any pain.”
Remarkably, she’s playing only her second tournament and only her sixth match since she was attacked in December.
Asked if the comeback had gone better than expected, she replied: “Yes. I could not have imagined a better comeback.” But she remained reluctant to agree that she was now one of the players who could win Wimbledon.
Her win had a hint of inevitability from the start, for she had prevailed in all nine previous encounters against Safarova, a former world No. 5. Kvitova captured 14 of the first 15 points, and the first five games.
After losing her service game at the start of the second set, Safarova shook hands and departed. She had been suffering from exhaustion as well as a thigh strain, having played two monster matches in her previous three wins.
“I am sorry for Lucie and hope she soon gets a bit better, but I love playing finals,” Kvitova said. “I like big matches, and I’ve missed it over the last six months. So this is quite a dream.”
She will go for her 20th career title in her 27th final.
Barty was ranked at 271 at the start of the year, won her first career title in March in Kuala Lumpur, and has become the first Aussie finalist here in 25 years.
From the moment she broke serve for 3-2 and consolidated for 4-2 in the second set, it was clear Barty had a formula which had a good chance of working.
She sliced the ball hard, kept it wide and low, and denied Muguruza chances to develop pace and rhythm with her elegant groundstrokes. Given a glimmer of a chance to counterattack with rolling forehands, Barty always took it, and more often than not hit her targets.
Muguruza called for her coach, sought to swing the ball around, and eventually just tried to scrap as best she could. But Barty gained adrenaline and self-belief from her second set success, and five games in a row from 0-1 in the final set effectively decided the outcome.
“I will keep playing this way and I know that sooner or later I will get the chance of getting another trophy,” said Muguruza, for whom this tournament has been mental rehab after her title-losing trauma in Paris two weeks ago.
Barty was ebullient. “I executed exactly the way I wanted to,” she said. “I like slicing it around on the grass, and I didn’t do much wrong.”