On a Day 7 of the 2017 US Open, where three of the four women’s matches went three sets, it was the straight-setter that delivered the drama.
It could have been the stage: Arthur Ashe Stadium at night. Or maybe the competitors: a pair of two-time Grand Slam champions in Garbiñe Mugurza and Petra Kvitova, the pre-tournament favorite versus the event’s feel-good story. And certainly the quality: Time and time again, Kvitova was excellent when she most needed to be, digging deep to score her best-ever US Open victory, unseating the No. 3 seed, 7-6, 6-3.
Kvitova’s story is oft-told but still horrifyingly incredible: the attack in December 2016, a home invasion that left her with career-threatening injuries to her left, playing hand; the title in Birmingham, England, in just her second tournament back; the difficult road that followed, with early losses at Wimbledon and again at the US Open Series events in Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati and New Haven.
But the well-regarded and universally liked Czech, who had long struggled in New York – just one quarterfinal showing in nine Open appearances prior to 2017 – came alive under the lights on this first Sunday. Muguruza entered the match having surrendered just nine games in three matches, but Kvitova equaled that number early in the second set. And after Muguruza fought off a match point at 5-2 and another at 5-3, Kvitova fought on, celebrating with clenched fists and a scream to the rafters when Mugurza’s final shot sailed long.
Kvitova would fall in the next round in a brilliant three-setter to Venus Williams, 6-3, 3-6, 7-6, but not before reminding tennis fans of how good she can be at her best – and letting them appreciate what it means to have her back competing on the game’s biggest stages.