Once again, I couldn’t catch a match I was intrigued by due to random life events. I know who won, but that’s all I know about the match (I don’t even know the score). Hence, I’m catching up via TennisTV, and keeping a log of my thoughts as I go through the match. Off we go!
1. When Li Na’s forehand isn’t dying, her game looks so very good. Then again, you can make that same statement about any tennis player and their weakness, and it will ring true.
This obvious comment was brought to you by Perd Hapley.
Anyway, Li Na was very impressive in that first game, in which she broke Kvitova’s serve. Returned rather well, and she used her forehand extremely efficiently. Will this last?
2. When Petra Kvitova’s game isn’t decomposing before our eyes, she’s simply awesome to watch. The way she can attack with either her forehand or her backhand in any direction, from nearly any spot on the court is simply stunning. Plus, when she’s playing well, Kvitova tends to come to net at the right times, and she does well there more often than not.
What I also like about Kvitova is that she’s a lefty who plays proper lefty tennis: she has the nice slider out wide serve from the deuce court, she can find nice angles with her cross-court forehand, and she can finish points with a forehand down the line, too.
Then again, at 0-2, 40-all, Petra has already amassed 7 unforced errors. 8, as she double-faults yet again to give Li Na a chance to go up two breaks. Minutes later, this third game is still going on, and Petra has double-faulted again (third DF of the game) to give Li Na another chance for a double break. Moments later, she dumps a forehand into the net, and Li Na is up 3-0.
This is why Petra Kvitova isn’t all that awesome to watch sometimes.
3. As the fourth game of the match is about to start, this depressing graph pops up:
So, to recap, Petra Kvitova is averaging over 4 UFEs per game so far.
4. Here’s something that I don’t understand. Li Na has played 3 games of tennis (one of them was long, but still) and her shirt already looks like this:
The shirt looked like this at the start of the match:
How is this a desirable outcome, Nike?
In a partially related note, Li Na’s forehand has gone back to being Li Na’s frequently horrible forehand, so Kvitova has gotten one of the breaks back and Li Na is only up 3-1.
Moments later, Li Na misses 3 straight forehands, and Kvitova holds after falling behind 0-30. Li Na still up 3-2.
5. At 3-2, 40-30, an update on the sad graph from earlier:
Petra Kvitova is now averaging a little over 2 UFEs per game now. In a related note, she’s won two games.
6. I like how all of the coaching visits for Kvitova start and end with both her and her coach doing a kinda-into-it high five. He talks at length, but in Czech, so I couldn’t pick anything up. One thing I don’t get: he sits between Kvitova and her bag. There’s not a whole lot of room there. If that were me, I’d move the bag down and sit a little bit further away.
Coaching visit immediate result: Li Na sprints to a 40-0 lead on her serve. But then a bunch of good forehand returns (hint, hint, Li Na) ties the game up at deuce. More good forehands, and Kvitova has a chance to get back on serve. That BP is saved after Kvitova makes a mess of a 2nd serve BH return, but moments later, Li Na shanks a FH, looks disgruntled, and gets broken when Kvitova doesn’t screw up a 2nd serve BH return, sending it nice and deep to force an error.
We’re all tied up at 4-all. Guess that coaching visit ended up working OK for Kvitova, eh?
7. The sad thing about both of these women is that they can go from sublime tennis to …not so sublime tennis from one point to the next.
8. There’s an interesting tactical dynamic at play here: Kvitova likes to attack with her cross-court FH, but that goes straight into Li Na’s BH, which is a fantastic shot. If Petra’s forehands are good, then there isn’t a problem. But if one is a little short, Li Na will have time to attack with her backhand. Which is what happened at BP in that 4-all game, and it resulted in the break.
The replay of the point was fun, because you saw how Li Na scrambled for the first two Kvitova CC FHs, but then had ample time to set up and attack the last one. Kvitova’s tactical error was not going DTL with her FH when she had Li Na in a defensive position.
9. Do any of you remember those Color Racer toy cars from around 25 years ago? They were fun! The paint of your toy car would change color if you dumped the car in hot water. It was awesome.
Unfortunately for Li Na, that was Nike’s inspiration for her current shirt. Here’s what it looks like right now:
The red highlight indicates the only part of the shirt that hasn’t changed color because of Li Na’s sweat.
Maybe the good people at Nike really loved those Color Racers.
In a partially related note, Li Na fends off a break point in that 5-4 service game, as Kvitova missed 3 straight forehands (two 2nd serve returns and one rally FH), and she’s taken the first set.
10. The first game of the second set mirrors the first game of the match: Li Na’s forehand is excellent, and she breaks to 15.
Here are the first set stats:
Here’s a stat derived from that information: in the first set, Li Na averaged 1 UFE per game. Petra Kvitova? 2.2.
And as you can tell, both women averaged 1 winner per game in that first set.
As I typed that, Li Na missed a few FHs, fell behind 0-40, and after saving 2 BPs, makes a tactical mistake by once again sending a 1st serve to Kvitova’s FH. A good return forces the error, and we’re back on serve.
11. At 1-2, 40-0, Li Na serves and volleys. Kvitova hits a good return, and she follows it up with an absolutely stunning BH lob winner off of Li Na’s very decent volley.
Simply sublime tennis, though it ends up being meaningless as Li Na holds to 15 anyway.
A little later, Li Na provides some sublime tennis of her own, as she crushes a FH cross-court return winner to set up BP. But then Petra botches her bread and butter play: the slider out wide from the AD court + FH down-the-line combo. Li Na is now up a set and a break.
12. For the life of me, I don’t understand Li Na’s fixation with sending 1st serves to Kvitova’s forehand. It gets her in trouble so often, and yet, no adjustment has been made.
In a related note, I so wish I could access serve direction data during a match. Because then I could tell you just how often Li Na has hit 1st serves to Kvitova’s forehand. And wouldn’t it be awesome if we knew the outcome of all the points that started with a Li Na 1st serve to Kvitova’s forehand?
Please make this happen, SAP.
13. At 2-4, 40-30, Kvitova DFs, sends a cross-court FH (probably her best shot) long by about 3 feet, and then can’t handle a great Li Na cross-court backhand.
As Li Na gets ready to serve out the match, I’m amazed at her composure. Sure, she was starting to lose her cool at one point in the first set, but she managed to keep a lid on her frustration and play a simple, coherent match: making Petra Kvitova hit almost every single ball on the run (particularly on the backhand side). I think she’s returned serve pretty well, served well, and survived the small stretches where her forehand threatened to derail her match.
Fittingly, she reaches match point after a gorgeous forehand volley. After a nervy DF, Li Na once again forces an error after making Kvitova hit a BH on the run, and she’s through to the semifinals.
Interesting that Li Na ends the match with a +3 differential between winners and UFEs. Kvitova? -15. Also, Li Na ended up averaging fewer than 1 UFE per game (0.83), while Kvitova finished with an average of 1.6 UFEs per game. Nearly twice as many.
Noteworthy: Li Na will finish the year as the World No. 3, which she claimed was her goal at the start of the year.
That was an impressive, composed performance by Li Na. And if Serena Williams shows up to the final in Despair Mode (as she was during the little stretch that I watched of her win over Jelena Jankovic), anything is possible for the newly minted World No. 3.