By Stephen Villatoro (Photos by Billie Weiss/Connecticut Open)
Playing in the final at the Connecticut Open presented by United Technologies has become routine for Petra Kvitova, who advanced to her third final in three years after defeating Sam Stosur on Friday.
Joining the 2012 champion is a newcomer to this sorority, as Magdalena Rybarikova is playing in the first Premier-level WTA final of her career, taking down Camila Giorgi for the right to play in Saturday’s finale.
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Their paths to the finals have been vastly different, but both players have played phenomenal tennis in New Haven this week.
Petra’s Path of Destruction
Kvitova has not dropped a single set at the Connecticut Open, rolling through the field to reach her third final in the last three years. Receiving a bye into the second round, the Czech took down Ekaterina Makarova, 6-2, 6-1, before breezing past Barbora Zahlavova-Strycova, 6-4, 6-1, in the quarterfinals. As the lone seeded player remaining after just two rounds, Kvitova was on the fast-track to the finals, but acknowledged that she was not ready to be another upset victim.
“I mean, yeah, it was lots of upsets the past few days. But this is tennis, it’s the tournament, it’s the beauty of our sport,” said Kvitova. “I’m not feeling anything. I’m just feeling well on the court, which is important for me right now. I will just focus on my next opponent, and that’s it.”
PHOTOS: Kvitova Smooth in Stosur Victory
Kvitova did just that against 2011 US Open Champion Stosur, dropping the Aussie 6-3, 6-1 to earn another finals appearance. It was a similar result for the World No. 4, who has not shown any signs of letting up in New Haven.
“Yeah, I was struggling in the two tournaments before the New Haven,” Kvitova said Friday night. “I’m glad I’m finding my form again. I’m glad with how I played, especially today. I knew Sam was going to be tough opponent. She likes to play on the hard courts, especially here in America. I mean, for me, it’s a very good win for me today.”
While it has been business as usual for the Czech, the Slovak has produced a magical run to the finals.
After defeating Silvia Soler-Espinosa, 6-4, 6-3, in the first round Rybarikova pulled off an absolute stunner in the second, taking down World No. 2 and Defending Champion Simona Halep, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. The Slovak broke the top-seeded Romanian six times and needed less than 30 minutes to claim the first set. Halep returned to her elite ways in the second set to force a third, but Rybarikova was simply too much to handle on that night.
“It’s very exciting and a great feeling to beat such a great player and champion,” said Rybarikova after the match. “I hope it will bring me some confidence.”
PHOTOS: Rybarikova’s Run Continues
This confidence was on full-display in the quarterfinals against rising American Alison Riske, who defeated six-seeded Flavia Pennetta in the second round. The Slovak edged out the first set 7-5 before getting blanked in the second 0-6. However, she would regain her composure in the decisive frame to win 6-4. After the match, Rybarikova admitted to feeling the pressure of reaching her first Premier-level semifinal.
“Of course, it’s much easier to play against somebody when you are more relaxed and don’t have anything to lose,” said Rybarikova in regards to her win over Halep. “But now maybe some people are expecting, maybe I was a little bit expecting from myself, that now I’m not playing against Halep, I’m playing against Riske, it’s really a chance to be in the semifinal.”
She would face a stiff test in the semifinals against hard-hitting Giorgi, who is known to put pressure on opponents with her aggressive style. The Italian had a similar trek to the semifinals, defeating four-time Connecticut Open Champion en route to the semis. However, Rybarikova controlled the match from the start and dispatched Giorgi 6-2, 6-4 for a berth in the finals.
Kvitova has rolled to the finals, while Rybarikova has shown an ability to play the role of spoiler, proving that player can be beaten on any given day. However, it’s hard to stop an elite player that is clicking on all cylinders.
On Saturday, we’ll find out which scenario holds true.