Kvitova, Halep advance to New Haven Open final

wBy: Nicholas McCarvel

“Finally,” Petra Kvitova muttered into the microphone, smiling.

After three hard-fought victories at the New Haven Open at Yale this week, the defending champion had won a match in straight sets, beating countrywoman Klara Zakopalova convincingly, 6-0, 6-1.

“I mean, that’s helpful, for sure, before tomorrow’s final,” continued Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon winner. “I hope that helps me to have more time for rest, not be on the court pretty long. So that’s the good thing.”

Rest is something Kvitova certainly deserves at this point, having played 29 three-setters so far this season, more than any other top-100 player.

After playing her semifinal Friday afternoon, Kvitova headed for a late-day massage and then dinner at a to-be-determined location in New Haven (“I don’t know, we haven’t picked yet”), and then took a leisurely stroll the Yale campus, her first time there.

While Kvitova had a low-key evening, it was high-octane for Simona Halep. The diminutive Romanian stunned four-time New Haven Open champion Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 7-5 to book her place in the final against Kvitova.

Since May, Halep has surged up the rankings, the 21-year-old going from No. 65 in the world to No. 23 – thanks in part to three WTA titles – Nurnberg, ‘S-Hertogenbosh and Budepest – the first three of her career. She is currently tied with world No. 2 Victoria Azarenka in terms of titles won this year – second in the WTA behind No. 1 Serena Williams.

“I feel very good. On court I have pleasure, much [more] pleasure than before. I feel good,” she said, smiling. “I just trying to play my best every time and to be confidence with me every moment because that is the most important.”

In her last 33 matches, the Romanian has racked up a 28-5 win-loss record, with victories over recognizable names like Marion Bartoli, Sam Stosur, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Jelena Jankovic. Wozniacki’s name was added to that list Friday night.

But what does Kvitova know of her opponent-to-be? The two players have never faced one another.

“I don’t know how Halep is playing,” Kvitova said, plainly. “I don’t think I played her. I know that she’s very good mover.”

It might be safe to assume that Halep has a bit more of a study on Kvitova, who has been a top-10 regular since she won Wimbledon two years ago and has had a more high-profile career.

“Yeah, I know she hits the ball very strong,” Halep said. “Tomorrow on court I will see. I will try to make something on court, just to be calm and to play the best. It’s most important to play relaxed because is the final.”

Halep said she was nervous at the start of her match Friday night against Wozniacki, but settled into what turned out to be an emphatic performance, becoming the first player to win a full match against Wozniacki in New Haven ever (the Dane retired against Kirilenko last year with a knee injury).

In the doubles final, a pair of well-known duos meet in what should be an entertaining championship match, set for 12:25 pm. No. 3 seeds Sania Mirza and Zheng Jie meet the No. 2 seeds, Anabel Medina Garrigues and Katarina Srebotnik.

Both teams have had to survive stiff challenges, Mirza/Zheng squeaking out wins in match tie-breakers (used in lieu of third sets) in their first two rounds and Medina Garrigues/Srebotnik stretched that distance twice, including in the semifinals against No. 4 seeds Liezel Huber and Nuria Llagostera Vives.

The No. 1-seeded team of Su-Wei Hsieh and Peng Shuai went down in the first round after winning in Cincinnati last week, while wild card Martina Hingis and Daniela Hanthuchova were taken out in round one, as well, losing to Cara Black and Vania King.

Huber, along with American Lisa Raymond (who also played in the event), were the defending champions.

What comes on Saturday in singles will be a challenge for both finalists: Kvitova has never defended any of her eight WTA titles that she’s had the chance to and Halep is looking to become the lowest-ranked winner here – at No. 23 – since Elena Bovina won as the world No. 25 in 2004.

A title for the little-known Romanian would be the fourth of the year for her – and on a third surface following wins on clay and grass.

“Every time I [feel] good on hard court. But I did well also on clay and grass,” she said, smiling. “So I don’t know which one is my favorite. I think I like all the surfaces now.”

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