Sunday, 16 December 2012

Rankings Match-Bet: Petra Kvitova vs Angelique Kerber

BWIN have priced up a series of match-bets for the 2013 season and one selection that stands out to The Overrule is the match-up between the two lefties in the top 10 on the WTA Tour. 2012 was a contrasting year for Petra Kvitova and Angelique Kerber, so before we take a look at what the future may hold for 2013, let's first review the past 12 months.

Kvitova entered 2012 as the number two ranked player in the world, having won her first Grand Slam at Wimbledon in 2011 and off the back of a devastating indoor season to culminate 2011. The storyline going into the season was whether Petra would end the year as the number one ranked player. She began her season with semi-final losses in Sydney and the Australian Open. Kvitova's loss to Maria Sharapova in Melbourne was to become, in many ways, the story of her season. A match in which she had many opportunities to seize control and for one reason or another, never did.

It has often been thought that because of Petra's asthmatic condition she would never be able to play to her potential in North American tournaments and her early exits at Indian Wells and Miami further added weight to that thinking. During this period she was affected by illness which was to become another hallmark of her 2012 season.

On clay Petra once again lost to Sharapova in the last four in Stuttgart and suffered a surprising loss to Fed Cup teammate Lucie Hradecka in Madrid. Her form was very up and down during this stage of the season and that was further exhibited in Rome, where she was beaten by Kerber and a stomach injury in the quarter-finals.

Struggling for consistency and confidence Petra benefited from a kind draw that opened up during the French Open. Once again, it was Sharapova who put her to the sword in the semi-finals in a match that proved to be surprisingly one-sided.

The grass court season was hoped to be where Petra could rediscover her game, but the signs were not promising after a first round defeat in Eastbourne to Ekaterina Makarova. Kvitova had reached the final of Eastbourne the year before and with a Wimbledon title to defend, a significant drop in rankings points appeared on the cards. At Wimbledon there were signs of life, although Petra freely admitted she was struggling to deal with the expectations and pressure of being defending champion. Her tournament was ended by eventual champion Serena Williams, which was no disgrace, given how Serena was carving her way through the entire tour during those summer months.

A quarter-final loss at the Olympics to Maria Kirilenko followed before Petra experienced her best few weeks of the year during the US Open series. A 12-1 record during Montreal, Cincinnati and New Haven enabled her to lift two titles and put to bed any suggestions that she wasn't capable of success on North American courts. However, the decision to play 3 weeks back-to-back heading into the US Open was not at all wise. A mixture of Marion Bartoli being on fire and Petra being out of gas resulted in a 4th round exit in New York.

Another illness affected Petra during the Asian swing where she failed to go beyond the 2nd round and bronchitis caused her to withdraw from the year end championships in Istanbul after losing in straight sets to Agnieszka Radwanska in the opening group match. Her individual season ended at number eight which was a far cry from the hopes and expectations that existed at the outset of the year. And although Petra was once again celebrating Fed Cup success, she lost to Ana Ivanovic on home soil with the opportunity to close out the tie.

All in all, the season had to be considered as a disappointment for Petra, who has weapons that many of her rivals don't possess. One quality Petra has yet to develop is the ability to consistently win when not playing to the level she expects. And for that reason, Petra's ceiling and basement are still world's apart, causing her form to yo-yo.

If Kvitova's season was underwhelming, Kerber's was the complete antithesis. The German entered the season barely clinging onto a seeding at the Australian Open and ended it with a career high at number five. Kerber had been a surprise semi-finalist at the 2011 US Open but by the end of 2012 she had firmly positioned herself as the top German player in the world and, in my view, the best defender in the women's game. 

Two semi-finals in Auckland and Hobart kicked off her season before losing to Sharapova at the Australian Open in the 3rd round. Kerber only took 3 games off Maria in Melbourne, but it was to be a different story in Marseille a few weeks later. 'Angie' completely outplayed Maria and fully deserved her straight sets win on her way to the title. A semi-final loss to Victoria Azarenka at Indian Wells sandwiched two early losses in Doha and Miami.

Kerber ruined the Caroline Wozniacki Open in Copenhagen by defeating the Dane in straight sets in the final. Losses to Kvitova and Na Li followed on clay and in Rome Sharapova exacted revenge for the Marseille loss on her way to defending her title. The following month highlighted Kerber's consistency levels, she reached the quarter-finals of the French Open (losing to Sara Errani), the final of Eastbourne (where she held multiple match-points against Tamira Paszek), the semi-finals of Wimbledon (losing to Radwanska) and the quarter-finals of the Olympics (losing to Azarenka).

Off the back of those excursions it wasn't surprising there would be a letdown along the line and an early loss in Montreal was understandable. Another final was reached in Cincinnati before Errani, once again, took her out of a Grand Slam at the US Open. That match was particularly punishing on the body and it was Errani's craft and willingness to mix up her play that proved decisive. 

The Asian swing culminated in another semi-final and quarter-final and although Kerber left the year end championships in Istanbul without a win to her name, she did play a big role in arguably the match of the year on the women's side against Azarenka. Ending the year at number five far and away exceeded expectations, the question now remains - can Kerber sustain her punishing style of play for 2013 and beyond?

Now that we've looked back on 2012, what about 2013? It's clear that Petra has far more upside going into the new season. Kerber has effectively maxed out her abilities and she will need to be willing to take more risks and not be as passive at key moments in big matches. That is an adjustment she will almost certainly need to make if she wants to be a serious threat to win Grand Slams, rather than being a player who can go deep and yet only so far. 

Her style of play may also become an issue, it is common for players of her ilk to hit a wall and burn out, rather than a player like Kvitova who dictates many of her matches - for better or worse. Scheduling will be key for Kerber going forward to avoid any further stress on the body that she already puts herself through. Petra will hope for more luck with health in the coming season, which I believe is a defining season for her. Her potential far outweighs her current ranking, but she will need to develop a consistency in her game that we haven't yet seen at present. The kind of consistency that Azarenka now exhibits on a weekly basis that she, too, once didn't. 

All factors being considered it will only take a small spike in Petra's year for her to be on the cusp of overtaking Kerber in the rankings, while Kerber will have to maintain what was a consistently strong 2012. The high and low of Petra on a week to week basis has a greater in-between than the consistency that Kerber has shown and with good health I would expect her to end the season ranked back in the top four or five. 

3* Petra Kvitova to have a higher ranking than Angelique Kerber at the end of the 2013 season @ 4/5 (BWIN)

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