WTA Birmingham: Petra Kvitova captures first title after return from injury

Just six months ago, after a serious hand injury suffered during a robbery in her house, Petra Kvitova wasn’t sure about when her return to tennis would happen, neither if it would happen at all. At Aegon Classic, only the second tournament after her return to competition, she proved that she’s not only back in action, but also back in winning, dropping only one set in the entire tournament and defeating an in-form Ashleigh Barty to win her first title in Birmingham.

Barty, who reached the final starting from qualifications, had defeated players such as Barbora Strycova and Garbiñe Muguruza on her way to the final; but, after winning the first set, she could little against an opponent who took total control of the match.

Petra Kvitova in action in Birmingham [photo credit: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images]                       

Barty stays solid on serve to capture the first set

The first part of the match showed the young Australian very solid all her service games, hitting almost all her first serves in, and putting Kvitova in the position of being unable to keep a return in. Until the last game of the set, Barty dropped only two points on her serve, while a consistent game on return earned her the chance to take the lead.

Kvitova’s struggling moment happened in the third game. From 30-30, a double-fault gifted Barty the first break point of the match, but the Czech saved it with a risky drop-shot and a cross-court winner. A good return from Barty gave her another chance, and this time Kvitova’s drop-shot attempt landed on the net, giving the Aussie the lead.

On her following service game, Kvitova still couldn’t find consistency, falling 15-40 down and conceding two more break points. This time, she put herself out of trouble with an ace and a good first serve and gained a chance to hold with a backhand winner. A double-fault right away, a symbol of a moment full of up-and-downs for the Czech, brought the game back to deuce. Eventually, another ace and a backhand winner let Kvitova hold and stay on track in the set.

Kvitova found some consistency on her own serve in the last part of the set, but still, she couldn’t find any chances to break back on Barty’s service games.

The first faltering from the Australian happened as she was serving for the set. Suddenly unable to put the first serve in, the 21-year-old hit two backhand errors from 30-15 up and gave Kvitova her first break point of the set, with the chance to level-off the score. An error from the Czech wasted it, but she gained another one with a return winner. 

A deep winner down the line from Barty saved it, and an ace gave her a first set point. A return error from Kvitova closed the set with a 6-4 scoreline for the Australian.

Ashleigh Barty in action in Birmingham [photo credit: Ben Hoskins/Getty Images]                          

Kvitova gains an early lead and levels off the score

If the last part of the set saw a more balanced game than the beginning, as the second set started the momentum seemed to switch from Barty to Kvitova, who found far more consistency on return games than she showed in the first part of the match, while the Australian failed to be as incisive with her first serve as she had been before.

The first game still showed a Kvitova who had yet to find her rhythm; from 40-0 up, she lost three points in a row - including a double-fault - and brought the game to deuce. She didn’t concede any break points this time, and even if with struggle, she eventually converted her fifth chance with a good first serve, and held to start the second set. She backed it up with a well-played game on return, in which two aggressive returns gave her a break point first and the break right away. An aggressive service game, that forced Barty to a full-court defense more than once, delivered the Czech to a neat 3-0 lead.

The Aussie held to win her first game of the set and then rallied back from 40-15 down, hitting three winners to give herself a huge chance to break back. The Czech, however, wouldn’t give up her advantage so easily and stayed aggressive to save the break point and eventually held.

The missed chance weighted on Barty’s shoulders, as she dropped another break point on her serve right away, and a good defense from Kvitova delivered her to a forehand error that cost the 21-year-old to fall a double-break down.

From 5-1, 30-0 up, the games seemed to be done for Kvitova; however, the Czech seemed to lose her rhythm all of a sudden, hitting two double-faults to go 30-all, and then two more errors to let Barty recover from one of the breaks. The Aussie easily held to love, leaving her opponent with the second chance to serve out the set.

This time, Kvitova stayed solid, and helped by two aces - the second one of set point - she took the set with a 6-3 score and forced the match into a decider.

Petra Kvitova in action in Birmingham [photo credit: Nathan Stirk/Getty Images[                     

Kvitova dominates and claims the match

The momentum seemed to shift all on Kvitova’s side in the latest part of the match.

As she went to serve first, Barty immediately found herself in need to defend her side of the court by Kvitova’s aggressive returns. Falling 15-40 down after two return winners, Barty’s forehand error caused her to get broken at the very start of the set.

After an exchange of holds, the Aussie found a chance to recover in the fourth game, when a huge error from the net from Kvitova gave her a break point. One more error gifted by the Czech leveled the score to 2-2.

From then on, however, the set had been a monolog from Kvitova, who left little or nothing to her opponent on her way to win the match. A battled game on Barty’s serve resulted in her being broken right away.

Kvitova then held to 15, losing on her serve the last point of the match. She went on to break Barty again, this time to love, and she quickly went to serve out the match in total control of the game. With a final ace, the 12th of the day, Kvitova converted the first match point to win her third title on grass, after the ones she claimed in Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014.