WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND—Eugenie Bouchard and Petra Kvitova aren’t friends, have never practiced together, and have rarely, if ever, spoken.
“I don’t know her that well,” Bouchard said.
Kvitova was even more definitive.
“I don’t know her."
Yet these two have had one big thing in common over the last two weeks. It’s not just that they’ve been the two best players at Wimbledon, they’ve also been the most stubbornly determined throughout. From the start, Kvitova has been inspired by her surroundings. Driven to avenge, or at least forget, her bitter quarterfinal loss here last year, she has played as if the trophy already belonged to her.
On the other side of the draw, Bouchard has played with, as she has said many times, an unrelenting focus on the next task at hand. Point to point, match to match, the 20-year-old has, with the possible exception of Roger Federer, been the most composed and clear-thinking competitor in either draw.
It should surprise no one that Bouchard’s first answer in her press conference today went like this:
“Proud of what I accomplished, but the job’s not over.”
Kvitova was even more blunt in her assessment of her feelings at the moment.
“I want to win, yes,” she said.
The battle of wills alone should make this a compelling match. It’s hard to imagine either woman cracking or caving, yet one of them must.
Who is it more likely to be? Kvitova won their only meeting, last summer on hard courts in Toronto, 6-3, 6-2; though that was obviously against a different Bouchard, one who was ranked outside the Top 40 and hadn’t yet been to three Grand Slam semifinals. The 24-year-old Kvitova also has the advantage in the experience department, having played and won the 2011 final here over a Hall-of-Famer in Maria Sharapova. As far as form goes, the Czech has been at her best these last two weeks, dropping just one set, to five-time champion Venus Williams in one of the matches of the tournament. But Bouchard has gone her one better by dropping no sets at all.
If Kvitova plays something like her best for a full two sets on Saturday, she’s probably going to win. Few women, if any, can stay with her power. You can hope she begins to miss; fortunately for her opponents, she usually does—this wildly up-and-down player is known as the queen of the three-setter. If she doesn’t start to miss, you can try to move her; at 6’0”, mobility will never be her strong suit.
Bouchard has the ability to move Kvitova. She plays on top of the baseline, takes the ball as early as humanly possible, and moves forward on anything short. That will take the Czech’s time away and possibly keep her from unleashing her long, strong swings.
“Bouchard is playing a very solid game,” Kvitova said today. “She’s a very good mover. She’s nearby the baseline. I think it’s very similar to my game. I think it’s going to be a tough battle.”
Bouchard also said she expects this to be toughest match of the tournament—naturally, she claimed that’s exactly how she wants it. So far in this tournament she has won virtually every important point she's played. She snuck through two tights sets against Alize Cornet that she could have lost, and she rallied from 2-4 down in a first-set tiebreaker against Simona Halep in the semifinals.
If the sets go the distance and get into the endgame of tiebreakers, I like Bouchard’s chances. She hesitated just a bit when she had an opportunity to beat Sharapova in the semifinals in Paris. It’s possible she could do the same here with the Wimbledon title in her grasp, but she's still the more trustworthy big-point player. On the other side of the net, Kvitova is more likely to win sets easily, the way she did against Bouchard last year in Toronto and in the 2011 Wimbledon final against Sharapova.
The match’s key shots could end up being Kvitova’s lefty serve and Bouchard’s aggressive return. Will Kvitova swing it wide and turn Bouchard’s two-handed backhand from a weapon into a liability? Or will Bouchard anticipate it, cut off the angle, and get ahead in rallies with it? That battle within the battle will be intriguing.
What will likely be decisive, though, is Kvitova's consistency. Which Petra will show up, and for how long? So far the stakes and the setting have inspired Good Petra to stick around; she's played with a real love for tennis and for this tournament these two weeks. I think she can hold off Bad Petra, and Bouchard, for one more day.