Wimbledon women's semifinals preview: Petra Kvitova vs. Lucie Safarova
LONDON -- When the dust settles on the Centre Court grass on Thursday, one thing is certain: there will be a left-handed Czech in the women's final at Wimbledon.
For the first time in the Open Era, two Czech women, No. 6 Petra Kvitova and No. 23 Lucie Safarova, will face off in a Grand Slam semifinals. When Kvitova had her spectacular run to the Wimbledon title in 2011, she became just the third left-hander in the Open Era to lift the trophy. Kvitova, 24, has never lost to her Fed Cup teammate in five career matches, but the two played a close one just two weeks ago in Eastbourne. Kvitova won 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (4).
Here's the low-down on the semifinalists:
Hometown: Fulnek, Czech Republic.
Coach: David Kotyza. A fellow Czech, Kotyza has worked with Kvitova since 2008.
Style of play: Hyper-aggressive, and you would be too if you had the easy power Kvitova has. She grew up learning how to play tennis with her father on an indoor hardwood surface, which explains why she hits the ball so flat on both sides and isn't bothered by to fast low-bouncing surfaces like grass. Kvitova's serves aren't as big as they were during her 2011 title run, but the lefty-serve is still a weapon. The key to her game is her ability to redirect the ball flatly down the lines on both wings. Whether it goes over the net or not, well, that's always the question.
Best surface: Grass and indoor hard courts.
Biggest win: En route to the 2011 Wimbledon title, she beat No. 5 Victoria Azarenka in the semifinals and then routed No. 6 Maria Sharapova in the final, punctuating her 6-3, 6-2 win with an ace down the tee. Here are highlights from that final:
Why she'll win: Kvitova struggled with the pressure and expectations after winning Wimbledon in 2011. She finished that season winning six titles and just a handful of points away from overtaking No. 1 from Caroline Wozniacki. She hasn't been the same player since, struggling with her consistency from match to match and tournament to tournament.
This year she's come into Wimbledon under the radar. Despite the fact that she's the only former champion left in the tournament, no one is talking about her. More eyes will likely be on the other semifinal between Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard than this all-Czech derby. And that's a good thing for Kvitova. She's playing with little pressure and it's shown in her game. She's hitting freely and moving well around the court. Given how big she hits the ball the match is always on Kvitova's racquet against anyone other than Serena Williams. This is a great opportunity for her to win her second Wimbledon title.
In her own words: "I'm aggressive definitely more than last year. I just probably feel the grass. I just know that it suits me well and I can really play my best tennis on that. It's everything give me some more confidence. I really had a great practices before Wimbledon. I played well in Paris. So it gave me a little bit more confidence from there, as well. I lost a really tough battle against Svetlana Kuznetsova, but it gave me a lot of positive things from that match."
What Safarova said about Kvitova: "Petra is loving the grass, she’s a former champion, a great top 10 player and I never beat her, but I was really close at Eastbourne, two weeks ago. She’s a tough one but I have nothing to lose but I’m going to just go and enjoy.”
Random fact: Kvitova's racket stringer has also been serving as the house cook during Wimbledon. He prepares her rice and pineapple before her matches, which happens to be the same meal she ate when she won in 2011.
On-court quirk: That screech you hear from Kvitova after a particular intense point? It's not a scream. She's actually yelling "Pojd!" which means "Come on!" in Czech.
Hometown: Brno, Czech Republic.
Coach: Rob Steckley. From Canada, Steckley is a former ATP player who has coached Frank Dancevic, Aleksandra Wozniak and Sania Mirza.
Style of play: Solid baseliner. Safarova has good power off both wings and a good serve as well. In many ways she's an underachiever, gifted with an all-around game that can trouble anyone, yet she has never been able to crack the top 15 in the WTA rankings. She's a good doubles player as well and has great feel at the net, but she has been an unreliable closer. When the nerves set in her game can go.
Best surface: Hard court.
Biggest win: In 2007 she knocked out Amelie Mauresmo, then ranked in the top five, from both the Australian Open and French Open.
Why she'll win: Safarova has been on the cusp of bracket-shattering wins all season. She was a point from knocking out Li Na from the Australian Open this year and had Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep, and Kvitova on the ropes in three setters she lost by the narrowest of margins. But this tournament could be the turnaround. She came into Wimbledon having won just four tiebreak sets this season but she won three in her first two matches of the tournament and hasn't dropped a set in five matches. She's very confident in her game and she came within a few points of beating Kvitova in Eastbourne. If Safarova plays like she has nothing to lose she's dangerous.
In her own words: “It’s very emotional, it’s very exciting and I’ve worked really hard throughout the years. Lost close matches to top 10 players. I was kind of there, but not really converting with the win so I’m really happy that’s finally coming.”
What Kvitova said: "It's going to be my third match against Czech girl actually during the Wimbledon, which is unusual. We played last time in Eastbourne. It was big fight until the end. I'm expecting tough battle again."
Random fact: She dated Tomas Berdych for eight years before the two ended it in 2011. CNN even did a whole story on them:
On-court quirk: None. Safarova is a no-nonsense player.