Tennis: Kvitova rekindles love affair with grass

BIRMINGHAM (AFP) – Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova renewed her love affair with grass on Tuesday with a near-perfect start on Tuesday to the Birmingham WTA tournament, a Wimbledon warm-up event.

Her fine serving and deceptive flat hitting earned a 6-3, 6-2 victory over Lucie Safarova, who is a childhood friend, fellow Czech, fellow left-hander and even a hitting partner at their home club in Moravia.

Mentally the match was not much of a contest — even though Safarova ended 2015 in the world s top ten for the first time — but it did become a stage for Kvitova to show that she might still be a leading contender on this surface.

“I always feel great on grass,” Kvitova said after a purring, high-speed performance.

“I love grass. My style of game just works on it. I like being here and at Wimbledon. I have great memories, and I just wish the grass court season could be longer.

“This was almost perfect for me today. I think I served well and timed the ball well. Normally I have problems with my movement at the beginning on grass, but today I felt I was good with that as well.”

Kvitova s speedy success also enabled her to finish before the arrival of the rain, which soon afterwards interrupted two other matches for lengthy periods.

Kvitova was quick to emphasise that she needs many more matches on this surface, both here this week and at Eastbourne next week, before being confident of challenging for a third Wimbledon title.

However, health issues, personal problems, and an absence of titles for ten months, means that doubts will linger.

Kvitova s smooth start was emphasised by the stop-start beginning for the titleholder, Angelique Kerber, who trailed Peng Shuai, the former top 20 Chinese player, by 3-4 before an angry-looking cloud sent them running to the club-house.

The second seeded German has not found life easy after her stunning Grand Slam triumph in Australia at the start of the year, with five first round losses, and the three and a half hour interruption was one of the last things she needed.

On resumption, Kerber had difficult moments in a pivotal tie-break but was sufficiently consistent to complete a 7-6 (7-3), 6-3 success without ever being at her best against a tricky opponent.

“First matches on grass are not easy,” Kerber said. “Returning after the rain I was careful with my movement because it was slippery in the corners.

“But I tried to stay focussed, and I m pleased with the win. I get down low well and I think my game adapts well to this surface.”

Earlier, another Czech, the eight-seeded Karolina Pliskova, lost 6-4, 7-6(9-7) to Barbora Strycova, in another rain-blighted contest.

The result was not such a surprise as Pliskova had five matches last week in winning the Nottingham title, and was far from fresh. Strycova is also a former finalist in Birmingham.

It was a patience-testing day for Agnieszka Radwanska, the top seed, who could get through only eight games against CoCo Vanderwegh and had to tolerate three interruptions.

Fourth seed Belinda Bencic, fifth seed Carla Suarez Navarro and Caroline Wozniacki, the former world number one, all waited steadfastly but failed to get on court.

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