Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova entered her second round match at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix weary of the fact that her opponent, Monica Niculescu would be a tough nut to crack. She not only had to deal with the eccentric forehand slice coming off her opponent's racket, but was seeking to avenge her loss to the Romanian in their last meeting in Fed Cup two months ago.
Niculescu, who sent Caroline Garcia packing in the opening round, faced a second consecutive big-hitting opponent. In what was an epic roller-coaster ride of a tennis match, Kvitova overcame an error-strewn opening set and then saw her chances of securing the second set slip away, having to save three match points in the process to secure it before finally blitzing through the decider to emerge victor.
Niculescu dominates the opening set
Kvitova started out the match pretty cleanly with a hold of serve. Niculescu followed suit and then had her sights on her first break point of the match, but converted on her second opportunity before securing a love hold to go up 3-1. Another sloppy Kvitova service game ensued as the Romanian broke her once again.
Niculescu then found herself a game away from claiming the opening set at 5-1 after holding her serve, but the seventh-ranked Czech finally held her service game, introducing the serve-and-volley tactic which paid off. By then, all seemed too late as Niculescu served out the set comfortably 6-2 in 34 minutes.
Second set climax ultimately goes the way of the Czech
After trading breaks the first two games, Kvitova looked to have finally gotten her foot in the match when she broke her opponent for a 4-2 lead. A subsequent hold of serve saw the Czech a game away from equalising the match.
The 31st-ranked Niculescu then launched an impressive comeback, winning three games in a row to level the set at five-all. After that, another sloppy service game by the Czech gave her the break and a chance to serve out the match. Kvitova responded by bringing up two break points but could not convert them both.
The turning point of the match came when the Romanian finally had her first match point, but was bravely denied the win by her opponent thanks to a lucky net cord. Her second and third match points did not prove helpful either as Kvitova put them away with brilliant a backhand dropshot and backhand volley respectively. The Czech then broke back on her fourth break point of that game, sending the set to a tiebreak. By then, the momentum had fully switched in favour of Kvitova.
The Czech number one did not falter in the tiebreak, capitalising on her second set point with a smash and a shriek of 'pojd' to equalise the match. The second set took an hour and 25 minutes to complete.
Kvitova zones in to victory
The third set began with a comfortable service hold by Kvitova before taking her first break point of the set to break her opponent for a 2-0 lead. The Czech clung on to this break on her next two service games till she broke Niculescu once more for a 5-2 lead. She took her second match point when her opponent's backhand landed in the net to win 2-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 in two hours and 44 minutes.
Kvitova cleaned up her numbers as the match progressed finishing with three aces in the end compared to Niculescu's zero. The Czech also hit 57 winners as opposed to 51 unforced errors, a +6 differential. Her opponent however managed just 11 winners and they were outweighed by 17 unforced errors. The only category where the Romanian bettered the Czech was the first serve percentage (76 for Niculescu, 59 for Kvitova).
Another staggering aspect was Kvitova's net approach. Her serve-and-volley tactic, which she employed for most of the match, accounted for this. She had a total of 61 net approaches and was successful in 33 of them. It was a well-executed gameplan against the unorthodox Niculescu.
Kvitova and third seed Garbiñe Muguruza will clash in the last eight. In what promises to be an entertaining match, Kvitova will seek to level her head-to-head with the Spaniard after losing their first encounter at the WTA Finals last year.