Inside a packed O2 Arena in Prague, Maria Sharapova defeated Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in a highly entertaining clash, giving Russia a 2-1 lead in the BNP Paribas Fed Cup Final.
Coming into this match, both players were well aware that they needed to be at their best in order to give their respective country a 2-1 lead. Since Sharapova and Kvitova both love taking the ball early, it was critical for both players to get the first strike in as many rallies as possible. Of course, since both players love being aggressive, there was bound to be an abundance of unforced errors from both sides. Sharapova and Kvitova both needed to keep their unforced errors at a minimum, while still being aggressive in order to win.
Sharapova had a slim 5-4 head-to-head record against Kvitova, with their last match coming just two weeks ago at the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global. After taking the opening set 6-3, the Czech battled back from 1-5 down to derail her Russian counterpart's hopes of making a winning return to action. As a result, Kvitova advanced to the final, where she lost in three sets to Agnieszka Radwanska.
Kvitova Too Good For Sharapova in Set Number One
The match began in similar fashion to how Kvitova and Sharapova's encounter in Singapore ended; the Czech breaking the Russian straight away in the opening game. Looking seemingly at home on the indoor hard courts of Prague, Kvitova was breezing through all of her service games in the opening set, losing just one point in each of them. Despite making just 7 of her 20 first serves in the opening frame, the world number six hit some superb second serves, which neutralized Sharapova's return position. Despite getting broken in the opening game, the world number four fought through each of her service games in an attempt to stay in touch with the Czech. However, due to Kvitova's superb serving, Sharapova was unable to make any inroads when returning, and she eventually crumbled while serving to stay in the set. Trailing 3-5, the five-time Grand Slam champion was unable to find her range. After some blistering hitting from Kvitova, Sharapova hit a backhand unforced error before hitting a double fault to give the Czech three set points. In the end, Kvitova only needed the one as Sharapova hit a forehand drive volley into the bottom of the net, handing the world number six the opening set.
Sharapova Saves Numerous Break Points, Eventually Breaks and Holds to Secure Second Set
The second set looked like it would begin much like the first, but Sharapova was beginning to find her range when it really mattered. After Kvitova saved two break points in her opening service game, the Russian saved two times as many in the following game, doing whatever she could to stay with the Czech.
From there, both players exchanged easy holds before Sharapova began to make her move. With some deep, penetrating shots that forced errors out of Kvitova, the Russian number one broke serve for the first time, much to the delight of all the Russian supporters inside the 17,360 capacity arena. That joy was shortlived though, as Kvitova broke back to love, in emphatic style. In the following game, Sharapova had two more break points but was unable to convert, which was partially because of some magical shots from Kvitova.
The Czech would go on to hold and was just two games away from giving her team a 2-1 lead.
Now trailing 3-4, Sharapova was in desperate need for a hold of serve, and she got one -- thanks to some clutch serving and hitting. After saving a break point and holding, the Russian had a break point of her own, which she took at the first time of asking. Now with a chance to serve for the second set, the world number four made no mistake, holding to love to take the second frame 6-4.
Despite not being overwhelmingly impressive on serve, Sharapova was able to fight her way through the second set, and was gifted with an occasional unforced error or two from Kvitova. Things were beginning to get really interesting heading into the final set...
Sharapova Runs Away with Final Set, Secures a 2-1 Lead for Russia
The final set was a big contrast to the first and second sets, with none of the games going to deuce. After the first four games of the set went with serve, Sharapova began to pull away with this match, breaking in the fifth game. Now leading 3-2, the Russian had this match on her racquet, and her serve seemed to come to her aid when it really mattered. After consolidating the break, Sharapova broke once more to go up a double break, thanks to a few loose unforced errors from Kvitova. When given the chance to serve out the match, the five-time Grand Slam champion made no mistake, holding to love to seal a hard-fought 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 win.
With this victory, Sharapova gets revenge on Kvitova for her loss at the WTA Finals two weeks ago,but more importantly, she gives Russia an all-important 2-1 lead in the BNP Paribas Fed Cup Final. In the second reverse singles match of the tie, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will take on Karolina Pliskova; a win for Pavlyuchenkova seals the tie and title for the Russians, but a win for the Czechs will send this tie into a decisive doubles rubber.