Petra Kvitova joined some rather fine company in beating a gutsy Victoria Azarenka 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 to win the year-end championships in Istanbul. Only two others players had won the prestigious title in their tournament debut, Serena Williams in 2001 and Maria Sharapova in 2004.
The Wimbledon champion pocketed a cool $1.75 million by going undefeated and rose to a career high No. 2. Nice rewards. Kvitova went unbeaten indoors on hard courts in 2011, rising to 19-0, so this was no fluke.
There's much more to come from the Czech.
Horrible start for Vika: The word "settled" is used early in big matches by commentators -- which player settled better, acclimated themselves to the occasion, crowd and so forth. Kvitova was the winner. But it could have been different. Kvitova trailed 15-30 on serve in the opening game, then received help from a good second serve and held. Azarenka, meanwhile, double-faulted on game point at 0-1, then dropped serve. In 20 minutes it was 5-0 and an uphill battle.
The usual Kvitova wobble: It's like Kvitova does this on purpose: She takes a massive lead and allows the opponent back into it, only to finish strong. See the third set against Samantha Stosur in the semis. After taking that 5-0 advantage Sunday, the Czech lost the ensuing five games. As usual, they went in a hurry. The patch included being broken at love twice and squandering two set points at 5-2. The errors rose like a tidal wave. Hope for Azarenka, which was subsequently taken away.
Late first-set momentum changer: Azarenka is sure to rue the opening point on her serve at 5-6. She worked Kvitova around nicely and got what she wanted -- a nice looking smash. Problem was, it landed in the bottom of the net. Kvitova, though, came alive. She stooped to plant a backhand volley winner (Martina would have been proud) and increased the use of her backhand slice to steady. It's not all about her power.
Vika's adjustment: Even if Azarenka was close, the first set was all about Kvitova. She was either blasting winners or making errors. It changed in the second. Azarenka seized the initiative, becoming more aggressive on the baseline and hitting down the middle to take away Kvitova's angles. Midway in the set, she started going after Kvitova's second serve, too. The moves paid off.
Horrible start -- again: This was the match. Kvitova saved four break points to begin the third and Azarenka was broken in the next game from 30-0. Many will remember the bad forehand miss by Azarenka on break point with the court empty, but Kvitova did her part by simply getting Azarenka's good serve out wide back in play. She made Vika hit the extra ball.
The grunts: How does one describe Kvitova's shriek post point? Is it a bird, a bark or perhaps a combination of the two? Whatever, it sure is loud -- and was louder than Vika's infamous grunts. Azarenka clearly toned it down for the final, which means she can do it in the future.
Kvitova's frailty: Kvitova can light it up like Dick Clark on New Year's Eve, delivering winners from every part of the court. But one shot gives her problems -- the short forehand near the net. Several times Sunday, as well as throughout the tournament, her reply sailed long. Bringing those balls down isn't easy given her height.
Bravo, Istanbul: When the year-end championships moved from Qatar to Turkey, not many expected the atmosphere to improve. But organizers were smart, keeping ticket prices affordable, and the result was packed houses. Well done.