Petra Kvitova overcame a sluggish start and 10 double faults to beat Madison Keys 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-3 on Saturday and advance to the final of the Cincinnati Open, where she will face Caroline Garcia, the first qualifier to reach the final of a WTA 1000 tournament.
In a match twice hit by lengthy rain delays, Garcia was able to keep her focus to see off sixth-seeded Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 4-6, 6-1.
After battling her way through qualifying, the resurgent Frenchwoman has notched wins over three top 10 world-ranked opponents, Maria Sakkari (4), Sabalenka (7) and Jessica Pegula (8).
In the day’s first match on a muggy Centre Court, a misfiring Kvitova had trouble getting into gear. But she produced some of her best tennis when it mattered by breaking the American favourite to start the third set and again to clinch a spot in Sunday’s final.
It will mark the 40th WTA Tour singles final for the 32-year-old Czech but first in Cincinnati.
“I expected it to be tough but I didn’t expect it to be that tough,” said Kvitova, who will return to the top 20 of the world rankings on Monday. “I don’t really care about the ranking.”
“Being in the final is of course more important, that is why I play tennis to be in the final and fight for the trophy.”
Keys, the Cincinnati champion in 2019, got off to a quick start and was gifted an early break when Kvitova double faulted three times. Thanks to the service break, Keys got in front 2-1.
But Kvitova slowly got her serve and groundstrokes under control and broke back to level at 3-3 as the set drifted to a tiebreak which Keys claimed 8-6.
In the second, Kvitova took command by charging ahead 5-2 but then struggled to close it out as Keys fought back to 5-4.
Serving for the set a second time, Kvitova would not squander another chance to send the contest into a decider.
Kvitova immediately applied pressure, breaking Keys with a thundering forehand return to snatch the early break.
Trailing 4-3, Keys had a superb opportunity to get back on level terms with three break points. But she was unable to convert as Kvitova fought back for the hold and then sealed her place in the final with another break.
Garcia, who leads the WTA Tour in aces, dominated the opening set particularly on her serve where she was 100% on first serve points won.
The Frenchwoman was two-for-two on break opportunities as well including one to clinch the opening set while Sabalenka could not manage a single break chance.
Garcia was in complete control when the match was halted due to rain at 1-1 in the second. But when play resumed, it was Sabalenka who benefited from the delay.
Both players struggled to hold serve after the restart. There were five consecutive breaks until Sabalenka finally held to go up 5-3 on the way to levelling the contest.
The second rain delay came at 3-1 in the third right after Garcia had broken Sabalenka. But this time, when play restarted the Frenchwoman swept the next three games to end a long day with a victory.