Kvitova feeling it on the grass

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LONDON -- Petra Kvitova can't quite articulate why her game is so right for Wimbledon. She just knows that it is.

"I just probably feel the grass," she explained. "I just know that it suits me well and I can really play my best tennis on that."

Three years ago, the long lefty roared through the field here, beating Maria Sharapova in the final for her first Grand Slam singles title. She was just 21 -- and the first player of either gender born in the 1990s to win a major championship.

She's still the only one, but that may well change by the end of the fortnight here at the All England Club. Eugenie Bouchard, Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic all reached the semifinals and are children of the '90s.

Kvitova had little trouble with fellow Czech Republic player and good friend Lucie Safarova, winning 7-6 (6), 6-1 to advance to the Wimbledon final for a second time. There was an inevitability to this 80-minute non-starter. It was the fifth time Kvitova has beaten Safarova this year and, oddly, her third Czech opponent in six matches here.

After Kvitova stroked a routine backhand winner into the open court, she clenched her fists and leaned back with a huge smile. She hugged Safarova warmly at the net, clapped with her racket and blew kisses to all four sides of Centre Court.

How much does Kvitova love it here? This is her 12th tournament of the season -- she's played all over the world, from Sydney to Doha to Stuttgart to Eastbourne -- and she's reached her first final at a major that might have the highest degree of difficulty of them all.

"I don't have words to describe what I'm thinking right now," she said in an off-the-court interview. "I know this feeling when you hold the trophy. I would like to win my second title." The Saturday ladies' final will pit Kvitova against the 20-year-old Bouchard.

Kvitova, now 24, has always been a hit-or-miss player. She still lacks a certain subtlety in baseline rallies; she rarely adjusts her big backswing to compensate for the shots coming back at her. She had by far the bigger weapons against Safarova. Question was, could this loose cannon keep the ball in the court?

Aesthetically, it was a different kind of match. In fact, it was the first all-lefty women's Grand Slam semifinal in 22 years, going back to 1992, when Monica Seles beat Martina Navratilova here.

Kvitova broke Safarova to open the match, but couldn't sustain it. The tiebreaker was 6-all when Kvitova asserted herself, punishing a weak second serve, then hitting a backpedaling forehand cross-court winner that brought on a frightful shriek.

The No. 23-seeded Safarova came close, but she drifted away in the second set. At 27, she was the oldest of the semifinalists by three years and the least decorated. This was her best Grand Slam effort ever -- she beat No. 10 Dominika Cibulkova and No. 22 Ekaterina Makarova on her way to the semifinals. It was seven years ago that she reached her only other major quarterfinal, at the Australian Open.

Kvitova, meanwhile, is a sporty 25-5 on the grass at the All England Club -- by far her best record in a Grand Slam.

Since the Open era began in 1968, a total of 42 women have won at least one Grand Slam singles title. Some 23 went on to win multiple majors and -- if you do the math -- 19 didn't.

And so, Kvitova has two days to contemplate her place in tennis history. There is a world of difference between being a "one-Slam wonder" like Sam Stosur or Ana Ivanovic or Francesca Schiavone and a two-time winner, such as Amelie Mauresmo, Li Na or Svetlana Kuznetsova.

Afterward, Kvitova said she didn't feel like the favorite in the match.

"She really seems that she is confident in her game right now," Kvitova said of Bouchard. "She's moving very well. She's playing aggressively from nearby the baseline. I think she's confident right now."

And on the mostly green grass of Centre Court, so is Kvitova.

Etc.

In a third-round battle of U.S. juniors, New York City's Noah Rubin prevailed over No. 2-ranked junior Francis Tiafoe 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-3 in a third-round match. Rubin, 18, attends John McEnroe's Long Island tennis academy ... No. 6 seed Stefan Kozlov handled Japan's Naoki Nakagawa 6-3, 7-6 (2) ... Taylor Harry Fritz defeated Francisco Bahamonde of Argentina 7-6 (1), 4-6, 6-3 ... No. 11 seed Michael Mmoh fell to No. 8 seed Johan Sebastien Tatlot of France 7-5, 6-3 ... No. 3 seed on the girls' side, Tornado Alicia Black, was a 6-1, 6-2 winner over Katie Boulter of Great Britain ... Michaela Gordon was a 6-2, 6-1 winner over Maia Lumsden of Great Britain ... The 21-year-old Nebraskan Jack Sock has reached the semifinals of the men's doubles tournament. He and partner Vasek Pospisil of Canada defeated Alexander Peya and Bruno Sores 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4. Now they play the dangerous No. 5 seeds Leander Paes and Radek Stepanek.

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