ISTANBUL, Turkey - In front of a packed crowd of over 13,000, Petra Kvitova capped an absolute breakthrough year at the Sinan Erdem Dome on Sunday night, recording an electric 75 46 63 victory over Victoria Azarenka to capture the TEB BNP Paribas WTA Championships and rise to No.2 in the world.
Maybe drawing confidence from winning her last three meetings with Azarenka, the first 30 minutes of the match were all Kvitova, as she stormed out to a 5-0 lead and seemed well on her way to extending that streak. Azarenka was able to swing the momentum, winning the next five games; although she would still lose that first set, she kept that momentum and took the second set.
Azarenka's momentum didn't end there. She brought up triple break point as Kvitova served in the first game of the decider, eventually holding a fourth break point later in the game - but Kvitova hung tough at what was perhaps the most critical time of the match, holding that service game then getting the only break of the set in the next game. The two held the rest of the way until Kvitova hit a forehand pass that drew one last Azarenka error.
"It was unbelievable tennis," Kvitova said in her on-court interview. "We were both really fighting. Every game and every set was very close. Maybe I played better on the important points in the match. We both played some of our best here in Istanbul today - it was a final, so why not!"
"It's hard to lose, but I'm glad I lost to such a champion who deserved to win," Azarenka said. "Petra was amazing today. She really did a great job."
Sunday's atmosphere was electric, with 13,676 fans cheering Kvitova and Azarenka on throughout their two-hour, 28-minute final. "I gave it my all today," Azarenka said. "The crowd kept me fighting all the way through. They were amazing today and all week. I have no words to describe it."
Not only does Kvitova move to No.2 on the rankings now - the winner of this final would be No.2, the runner-up No.3 - but she has equalled No.1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki's WTA-leading six titles for the season now, having taken titles at Brisbane, Paris [Indoors], Madrid, Wimbledon, Linz and now here.
Kvitova began the season outside the Top 30 and is now just one spot away from the top ranking. "When I started this season I didn't have any goals. I just wanted to improve my game. But first Wimbledon, and now the year-end Championships and getting to No.2 in the world, it's just a dream."
The 21-year-old Czech is just the third player in the history of the event to win it in her first year, following Serena Williams (who did it in 2001) and Maria Sharapova (who did it in 2004).
Both finalists had won their round robin groups earlier in the week, Kvitova going 3-0 with straight set wins over Vera Zvonareva, Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska, Azarenka going 2-1 with wins over Li Na and Samantha Stosur but losing to Marion Bartoli, an alternate replacing an injured Sharapova. In the semis, Kvitova beat Stosur, 57 63 63, while Azarenka beat Zvonareva, 62 63.