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Champions, challenges, and the flow of life

Matt Zemek

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The Madrid Open gave us a clash of champions on Saturday and created another one for Monday.

Tennis tournaments reaffirm the need in life to enjoy the journey, not just the destination. While we wonder who will win a tournament, the stops along the way are meant to be savored, even if they occur earlier than we would like them to.

Saturday’s meeting between Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber was one such example.

Kvitova and Kerber are both multiple major champions. Yes, Kvitova hasn’t won a major in seven years, and Kerber has been going through a very rough time the past few years, but they will both be deserving members of the International Tennis Hall of Fame one day. They will have their well-earned moment in Newport.

While they are still able-bodied and hungry, they are — as champions — trying to see how much more they can extract from their games, fighting to see if they can make one more climb up the mountainside and reach a summit, one which might come into full view at Wimbledon, where they have both tasted ultimate glory.

Saturday’s match wasn’t make-or-break for either player, but it was definitely a testing ground, a chance to see how they measured up against each other. Both Kvitova and Kerber lost to Elina Svitolina last week in Stuttgart. They both fought hard, but couldn’t win the defining collection of points needed to cross the threshold and advance. This was especially true in Kvitova’s case. Petra was in control of the match with a set and a break lead. She had two match points, served for the match, and was lashing the ball with familiar success… until closing time came. She unraveled when she was close to the finish line, and before she knew it, Svitolina pulled away for a three-set win.

Saturday’s match against a formidable opponent was a chance for Kvitova to reset the dial in a place where she has won multiple championships in the past. Madrid’s altitude rewards big hitters. Kvitova has thrived in Madrid, so the circumstances gave her a chance to build back confidence before the major tournaments which await in the coming months.

Kvitova has to feel great about her outlook after winning the big points in a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Kerber. While not playing a flawless match, Kvitova played a timely match, the kind of match she failed to deliver against Svitolina.

Kerber, for her part, was very much in the hunt in this match — which is reason for her to think she can still become a factor later in this 2021 tennis season — but she obviously isn’t yet where she wants to be.

That was the completed battle of champions on Saturday. Meanwhile, the day of play created a new and highly intriguing clash for Monday.

The last two Roland Garros women’s champions will meet on red clay in the round of 16. Ash Barty and Iga Swiatek both won in Madrid to set up a fascinating encounter.

Many will look at this match and use it to predict or gauge how Roland Garros will unfold, but in many ways, the simple reality of the meeting itself is the biggest story.

Both players get to gather information on each other. They might not meet in Paris, but playing an opponent with quality and variety — which both possess in abundance — could provide insights which help both Barty and Swiatek adjust as their seasons continue.

Another reality created by this Monday matchup is that if Barty and Swiatek meet in big tournaments in the coming years, this Madrid moment will become part of a developing history which could accelerate the growth of what tennis fans and WTA executives both hope will become a meaningful, important rivalry.

Saturday was a day for champions in Madrid — an older generation and a younger one, an established rivalry and one which will begin, a completed match and a match which was freshly created.

Enjoy the journey, not just the destination.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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