Holder Petra Kvitova was stunned at the WTA Championships on Tuesday with a defeat that reduced her to tears, while Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova began their campaigns in top form at the end-of-season competition.
Sixth seed Kvitova was toppled 6-3, 6-2 by Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska in a contest that saw the Czech commit a whopping 41 unforced errors to only five from her opponent in the round-robin competition featuring the world’s top eight women.
Wimbledon and US Open champion Williams eased to a 6-4, 6-1 victory against Germany’s Angelique Kerber, while French Open champion Sharapova beat Italy’s Sara Errani 6-3, 6-2.
Kvitova, so impressive winning last year’s title, had trouble keeping the ball in court off the ground, while fourth-seeded Radwanska put on a smart performance, easily moving her opponent out of position.
It was the Czech’s first loss in 25 matches on indoor hard courts, dating back to October 2010.
Kvitova came into her news conference with tears in her eyes and admitted having lost control of her emotions.
“It was a little bit different, but the nerves were there for sure,” Kvitova told reporters. “I was nervous all the match. I felt my fingers weren’t still moving and I didn’t move on my legs. I’m disappointed in myself. I had a lot of errors and it wasn’t good tennis from my side ... If you are not playing like some matches before and now you have a player who’s No. 4 in the world, it’s not easy to be relaxed.”
Williams overcame an injury scare during a winning start to her bid to cap a brilliant comeback season by regaining the WTA Championship title.
She appeared to pull a gluteal muscle attempting a retrieve in the first set, but played through the discomfort to beat Kerber, a debutant in the event.
Williams’ tenacious efforts thus earned her revenge over the improving German left-hander, who upset her in their last meeting, at Cincinnati in August, and who had her moments early on this time too.
The unofficial favorite nevertheless denied that she had suffered any problems, saying: “I feel like I am moving fine, getting a lot of balls back, being really defensive, running down drop shots really easily.”
However, none of that sounded like Williams’ more usual bellicose approach to the game, and certainly there were a few minutes in the fifth and sixth games when a different outcome seemed possible.
Once she held her lower back after failing to reach a ball wide on the forehand side and then she dropped serve in that game, after unaccountably hitting wide with a backhand drive from well inside the baseline.
The following game saw Kerber starting to dictate some of the rallies, with Williams again appearing to hold her gluteal region. However, her superbly rhythmic service action got her through the next game, and after holding serve again for 5-4 she summoned some adrenaline with fearsome fist pumping and yelling.
Then her standard improved, but Kerber might still have reached 5-5 had she not served a double fault on an advantage point. Williams punished that with two solid attacks which snatched her the set.
Once Williams had broken serve for 3-1 in the second set with a trademark ferocious drive volley, she managed to get on top for the first time, though her victory celebrations seemed subdued.
Determined to project a positive view of her physical state, she suggested she had been “just kind of getting into my rhythm a little bit,” and “obviously trying to do more, but really just feeling my way around pretty much.”
It has been more than six weeks since Williams last competed — when she beat Victoria Azarenka in the final of the US Open in New York — and there had been, she volunteered, some strange twinges because that.
“I felt like I had practiced too much, and if I hit another practice ball I’m going nuts,” she said. “I was, like, if I have another practice day, I don’t know if I can handle it.”