BIRMINGHAM: Petra Kvitova, the two-time Wimbledon champion who is making a courageous comeback from injury, will face unseeded giant-killer Ashleigh Barty in the final of the Birmingham grass court tournament.
Kvitova showed few signs of the appalling knife injuries to her left playing hand, securing a one-sided victory by 6-1, 1-0 retired over her friend and compatriot Lucia Safarova, who quit with a thigh strain.
The on-court drama came later when Barty, a 21-year-old Australian who began the year ranked down at 271 in the world, showed such dexterity with grass court skills that she brought down the sixth-seeded former French Open champion Garbine Muguruza 3-6, 6-4, 6-2.
Barty won the Wimbledon girls title six years ago and proved a revelation in the way she used slice to blunt her famous opponent’s attack before counter-attacking with heavy forehand drives.
The strongest emotions though were generated by Kvitova’s continued progress.
This is only her second tournament since a seven-month hole was torn from her career, and it was only her sixth match -- yet she reached her first grass court final since her great Wimbledon triumph of 2014.
Kvitova is already beginning to suggest she can again do well at the grass court Grand Slam starting in nine days’ time, and -- perhaps against her original intention -- even she is beginning to admit it.
“I could not have imagined a comeback better than the one I am having now,” she said.
“The hand is good which is the best news I could have, and I am not feeling any pain -– and that’s the best news,” she repeated.
Earlier she said: “I am sorry for Lucie and hope she soon gets a bit better. I love playing finals, I like big matches, and I’ve missed it over the last six months. So this is quite a dream.”
Kvitova had never lost any of her nine WTA Tour encounters with Safarova, and this brief encounter had a sense of inevitability about it from the start.
Kvitova will have a very different sort of match against Barty, who began to find a pattern which discomforted Muguruza mid-way through the second set.
Backhand slices halted the Spaniard’s ground-stroking attacks and set up opportunities for big counter-attack which broke serve for a 4-2 lead.
She closed out the set without fuss and then caused a sensation by breaking serve twice more to go 2-1 and then 4-1 up in the decider, which she consolidated to 5-1.
Muguruza fought hard, attacked early when she could, and managed one break back, but never quite solved the tactical problem confronting her.
"I executed exactly the way I wanted to,” said Barty. “I like getting purchase with my slice on the grass, and I didn’t do much wrong.
“It is fantastic to see Kvitova back, and she is a weapon on grass, so hopefully I have nothing to lose in the final.”