Kvitova powers past Siegemund for semi-final return

No.7 seed rekindles love of clay eight years since previous last-four showing in Paris

Petra Kvitova, Roland Garros 2020, quarterfinal© Nicolas Gouhier/FFT
 - Dan Imhoff

A battle of the nerves is to be expected when Petra Kvitova finds herself at a stage of Roland-Garros she has not seen in eight years.

Not since 2012 had the Czech ventured to the semi-finals in Paris.

On Wednesday, she kept those nerves in check to book her return ticket to the last four – a 6-3, 6-3 winner over German surprise, Laura Siegemund.

Kvitova, yet to drop a set this fortnight, was impressive against Siegemund as she claimed 77 per cent of her first-serve points and converted five of 10 break points.

To suggest Kvitova fell out of love with clay since 2012 would do great disservice to her record on it – five of her 27 career titles have come on clay, with three of those at Premier level in Madrid.

Truth be told, it may have been a somewhat shaky relationship in those early years on tour anyway, this despite having grown up on the surface and having reached the semi-finals in Paris eight years ago.

The Kvitova of 2020 has evolved in line with this relationship – greater consistency and less expectations from those on the outside has helped to no end.

She has grappled with all manner of Paris’ variable autumn extremities this fortnight, the type of external annoyances that become more manageable with experience.

Still the 30-year-old does not consider herself any closer or more distant to clay than eight years ago.

“I think I'm still same clay player as I was before, but I just think that I find those conditions here and I'm still mentally tough,” the No.7 seed said. “I mean, I played indoor, outdoor, sun, wind, whatever, rain, whatever happens… I think eight years ago I think it was everything, you know, kind of [the] same, same weather.

“So I think that's just the difference. I'm really happy that after even eight years I can be in the semi-final again of a Grand Slam after last year final of Australia.

“I'm really glad in the last couple of years I improved my results in the Grand Slams, too. So definitely I'm proud of this, and I hope this journey, it's not ending yet.”

There was no hiding those emotions when she gained the better of China’s Zhang Shuai in the previous round. While that quarter-final hurdle on Wednesday could have induced a nerve-riddled undoing against another unseeded opponent in which she was a heavy favourite, it was a remarkably composed Kvitova who saw it through.

“Well, I'm pretty proud of everything I did today. Since I wake up today I felt pretty nervous,” Kvitova said. “Going to the match I knew it will be a big fight about every point.

“She’s a very tricky opponent, she has lots of variety in her game, and I knew it will be very tough. Of course, playing quarter-final of the Grand Slam, it's nothing easy with the nerves as well.

“So I'm pretty happy about my side, of mental side and about how I handle it, the pressure out there, as well.”

When Kvitova reached the semi-finals in Paris in 2012, it continued a purple patch on the tail of her first Wimbledon title less than a year prior. She had reached the semi-finals or better in all but the US Open in that glorious 12-month stretch.

Few could have imagined the extraordinary turns her journey had subsequently taken.

While a second Wimbledon trophy run followed that Roland-Garros semi-final almost two years later, it became the only time in a near seven-year period that she managed to pass a Grand Slam quarter-final.

Five months after a terrifying knife attack in her home, Kvitova made a remarkable return to Roland-Garros in 2017.

Almost four years later, it remained difficult for the Czech to reflect on and made her runs to last year’s Australian Open final and now the semi-finals in Paris that much more special.

“I got emotional in my last match. It was happy tears, definitely, so I wasn't sad,” Kvitova said. “It was just everything back in my mind to see [the] whole box supporting of people who really was there when I needed them.

“Today, I didn't get emotional, but it's gonna happen anyway. When I just look back anyway, those four years were very tough, but very happy too. Of course it's a mix of emotions what happened.”

Kvitova will face this year’s Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin for a place in a maiden Roland-Garros final.

Outcome aside, she has found a new affinity for the clay. Things are markedly different eight years on.

“I think for me that time was a lot of pressure as well on me, and even I didn't play like the best on the clay, I was still able to make a semi-final,” she said of 2012. “So it was [a] huge result.

"To be honest right now to be in the semi-final after everything I have been through… it probably means more because I couldn't imagine that I can be in the semi-final of the Grand Slam and final of the Australian Open even before. So it's another miracle happening to me.”