Kvitova closes on No 1 ranking with fine finish

 

Petra Kvitova's memorable year ended in perfect fashion here yesterday when the 21-year-old Czech won the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships in her first appearance at the season-ending event. Kvitova's 7-5 4-6 6-3 victory over Victoria Azarenka in the final gave the Wimbledon champion her sixth title of the year and ensured that she would rise to No 2 in today's updated world rankings list.

Kvitova, whose prize money of $1.75m (nearly £1.1m) almost matched what she won at the All England Club in July, began the year ranked No 34 and with only one title to her name, but she ends it just 115 ranking points behind Caroline Wozniacki. It would be no surprise if Kvitova overtakes the Dane early next year.

While Wozniacki has had to live with the jibes about being world No 1 without having won a Grand Slam title, Kvitova has the game which can earn her the sport's biggest prizes. With her big left-handed serve, thumping ground strokes and willingness to go for broke, the Czech is a refreshing change from some baseline drones who play the percentages.

When Kvitova smashed a succession of winners to take a 5-0 lead in the first set Azarenka appeared to have little idea how to respond, but from 15-30 down in the next game the Belarusian launched a fightback. With a crowd of 13,676 behind her in the impressive Sinan Erdem Arena, Azarenka found her rhythm, while Kvitova started to make mistakes. At 5-5 the momentum appeared to have swung around, but Kvitova, having been broken to love in her two previous service games, stopped the rot. In the following game she converted her fifth set point when Azarenka hit a forehand long.

Azarenka, who moves up to No 3 in the world, played more consistently in the second set, and made the break in the fifth game. She was 40-0 up on Kvitova's serve at the start of the decider, but her opponent's response was steadfast and the Czech, who has won all 19 of her indoor matches this year, was soon leading 3-0. When she served at 5-3 Kvitova held her nerve, Azarenka netting a backhand volley on the second match point.

If the end-of-season finale was short on big-name players in the absence of the Williams sisters and Kim Clijsters, the week has underlined the fact that a new generation are starting to replace the old guard. Of the three players who are finishing the year at the top of the world rankings, 22-year-old Azarenka is the oldest.

"For almost the past 24 months the next generation has been coming," Stacey Allaster, the chairman and chief executive of the Women's Tennis Association, said yesterday. "The current generation, when you're getting to 29 and 30 and having other interests like family, their sunsets will come. What's nice is we do have this great mix of established and rising stars that are emerging."

The first end-of-season championships to be held here – Istanbul will be the hosts for two more years – have been a success. Thanks to sensible pricing, with tickets between 10 and 20 Turkish lira (about £3.50 and £7), the crowds have been big, with a minimum of 10,000 spectators at every session. Local media coverage has been extensive and the city hopes the past week has strengthened its bid to stage the 2020 Olympic Games.

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