Damein Kayat takes a look at the Stuttgart Open quarter-final matches between Elina Svitolina and Petra Kvitova as well as Aryna Sabalenka and Anett Kontaveit.
Elina Svitolina 33/20 vs Petra Kvitova 46/100
It’s funny, whenever I do Elina Svitolina previews, I turn into Danielle Steel. For some obscure reason I get sucked into her ongoing relationship travails with Gael Monfils. Now they are engaged! Who knows, perhaps this will serve as motivation for great things this week. The Ukrainian has actually defied my expectations with some really solid performances of late. That semi-final run in Miami actually caught me slightly off guard. She then won both her matches in the Billie Jean King Cup. She just wiped the floor with hometown idol Angelique Kerber and she looks in imperious mood. Svitolina’s deft footwork and defensive baseline play remind me of a slightly less explosive Novak Djokovic (if you will allow the gender switch there). She is actually well suited to clay, evidenced by back-to-back victories at the elite Italian Open. She will look to grind Petra Kvitova down by keeping the ball in play as much as possible, hoping for the Czech to go for a little too much a little too often.
Petra Kvitova is actually the defending champion here. The 2019 Champ never got the chance to defend her title last year due to the Pandemic. It has been a slightly schizophrenic season for the Czech. Victory in Doha has really detracted from some pretty meagre form. Take Doha out of the equation and her year-to-date win-loss record is 7-5. She seems to be struggling of late behind her serve. That service action has long been the wellspring of her success. But players seem to be getting more aggressive on it, especially her tentative second-serve. She has come through a pretty gruelling draw thus far. She beat the enigmatic Jennifer Brady in straight sets before a titanic struggle against the rising star Maria Sakkari. Will she have the necessary energy to pull through this match?
Verdict: Svitolina to win 33/20
Kvitova leads the head-to-head 7-3. However, it is Svitolina who has won their last two encounters. That includes an epic three-set match in Miami. This surface should suit the Ukrainian more. That win in Miami is certainly making me lean towards Svitolina. As I noted earlier, Kvitova has struggled to serve consistently well this season. I don’t want to get cavalier with the nature of victory, so a Svitolina win should suffice.
Aryna Sabalenka 62/100 vs Anett Kontaveit 5/4
Things haven’t exactly clicked for the ultra-aggressive Belarusian since her run to the final in Abu Dhabi. It looked as if she was poised to have a dominant year on the tour. Quarter-finals in Miami and Dubai highlight her proficiency on hardcourts. Generally speaking, her performances on clay have been slightly sub-par. Her only clay-court final came at the 2018 Linz Open. Her win-loss record over the past six years reads 28-24 on clay. She has enjoyed a fairly routine run thus far, overcoming Shuai Zheng and Anna Lea-Friedsam in straight sets. Her serve worked particularly well against Friedsam, with a highly creditable 64% first serve percentage. Sabalenka loves to use her highly impactful serve to blitzkrieg opponents.
2019 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix runner-up Anett Kontaveit booked her place in the quarter-finals with a victory over American Sofia Kenin. She hit an impressive 31 winners to 20 unforced errors, really using her excellent mobility to great effect. Since hiring Nigel Sears as her coach, she has vastly improved her serve, with a useful kick serve able to extricate her from tricky situations. The former World Number 14 has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular start to 2021. She was ultimately the co-champion at the Grampians Trophy before a third round run in the Aussie Open. A quarter-final in Qatar was to follow. As noted earlier, she reached the final here in 2019. She also reached the semi-finals in 2018. This surface really plays into her strengths. She doesn’t really have the psychotic hitting power of a Naomi Osaka. These slower surfaces are an ideal match for her hustling movement and undoubted stamina.
Verdict: Sabalenka in straight sets 27/20
This will be the fourth career meeting between these two, with Sabalenka winning all three of those previous encounters. To be fair though, this will be their first meeting on clay. As such, the Estonian will feel quietly confident going into this one. Sabalenka will recognise the consistency of Kontaveit’s backhand and will attack her forehand corner. Kontaveit will need to be less passive than usual on her forehand wing if she is to stand any chance. Ultimately, I have faith that Sabalenka’s power will be key to victory here. Perhaps a straight-sets win for the Belarusian offers some value at 27/20.