Kvitova and Azarenka shake hands at Wimbledon (above).

Petra Kvitova, who we felt was the best woman in the world by far going into 2012, ran her indoor unbeaten streak to 27 yesterday.  Kvitova, the 2011 Wimbledon and Fed Cup champion, as well as the YEC champ for 2011, defeated Angelique Kerber in a tight but quick two sets.  That’s how the girl plays it.  Fast and aggressive.  We must say again how much we like her style, leading with a big lefty serve and big big forehand and backhand wings.  Too big for Kerber, who plays big herself, and who has climbed steadily in the rankings as one of the hottest players on tour in the last 12 months.

Kerber is excellent at holding serve, a lost art in the women’s game.  This week she took out Caroline Wozniacki in straights, her second victory over the Dutch Miss in straights in essentially 5 days, after also meeting at E-Bok in Copenhagen last weekend.  While Wozniacki will continue in the wrong direction, we think Kvitova is ready to present herself to Victoria Azarenka for the slugfest that should have gone down in the final at Melbourne.  Kvitova had a very uneven Australian and American soft hardcourt season, losing unexpectedly to Maria Sharapova in the semis Down Under.  Tomorrow, Kvitova has a chance to strike back at Maria Sharapova, who frankly used all of her 9 lives today in battling back to win from match point down against former French champ Sam Stosur.  Here are the odds for tomorrow’s semifinals:

Porsche Open @ Stuttgart, Germany — Semifinal

Petra Kvitova:  – 160

Maria Sharapova:  – 120

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Victoria Azarenka:  – 260

Agniezska Radwanska:  + 200

……

Kvitova, who defeated Azarenka on red clay last year to take the title in Madrid, has won 4 straight in the head to head, and holds a convincing 4-2 lead all time.  She has not lost to Vica since 2008.  All throughout Azarenka’s magical run, she has not had to face Kvitova, who along with Serena Williams represent the only matchup problems for her on the tour.  Kvitova is also a tremendous specialty surface player.  She has mastered indoor clay and hardcourts, has won on grass, and has always been the better clay courter.

Azarenka would seem to move a little better than Kvitova, but remember that Kvitova is dictating, giving her more opportunities to relax.  The extra power she garners, we think, will go further for her this clay court season than Azarenka with her slight edge in movement.  Kvitova is a perfect fit on clay as she moves naturally in the dirt, which is a huge edge (ask Sharapova).  It’s also a nice advantage to be able to hit through the court and move up gracefully for short balls.

Sharapova once claimed she was like a “cow on ice” at Roland Garros.  She’s a worker, and even after the shoulder surgery has made the semis at Roland Garros.  But you know how we feel about Sharapova not thinking the game and being so fundamentally unsound.  It’s not gonna fly here.  We also like that Kvitova had a relatively easy match today compared to Maria.

While Stuttgart is red clay, the indoor setting provides no wind at all, meaning the ball has less resistance through the court.  Serves and serve tosses are also unaffected, which obviously helps big servers.  Kvitova is made for this arena, and should carry the success here through the rest of the season and into the grass season.  We expect she will.  She is our favorite at Roland Garros and Wimbledon, which is saying a lot, considering how well Azarenka has done.  But we always felt that Azarenka’s star was further in the offing, and that Kvitova’s was already here.  Then it left.  Now she’ll get it back.

Azarenka struggled today with Mona Barthel, Germany’s latest breakout player.  Barthel got off strong in 2012 taking the title in Hobart with ease, then qualifying for the Australian and winning two rounds before falling to Azarenka.  She has now lost to Azarenka 3 times this year, and until yesterday hadn’t managed a competitive set.  Barthel is improving quickly though, and the tight match today is no knock on Azarenka.  In fact, we have to hand it to her for fighting off Barthel, who at one point had saved 12 of 16 break points this morning.  We would not be surprised if Radwanska upset Azarenka tomorrow, though we aren’t in love with her in this spot.  And we really hope to see Kvitova-Azarenka for the first time in 2012, as it is the matchup most anticipated by keen watchers.

As for the men:

Open Sabadell ATP 500 @ Madrid, Spain — Semifinals

Rafael Nadal:  – 2500

Fernando Verdasco:  + 1200

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David Ferrer:  – 250

Milos Raonic:  + 190

……

We’d be tempted to pick against Nadal at those prices, except we hate Verdasco, who is 0-12 lifetime in the matchup.  He hasn’t even really gotten too close.  In one of the most similar settings to this one we could recall, the final in 2010 at Monte Carlo, Nadal rolled, 6-0, 6-1.  And it was more lopsided than that.  If Verdasco and his team, led by Darren Cahill, were going to put a winning gameplan together for Rafa, it would have happened already.  And then there was Tipsarevic who said after today’s 6-2, 6-2 loss to Nadal that the Spaniard has never looked better on clay.

Let Nadal win all the 500’s he can and we won’t care.  The real test will be at RG.  We’ll be betting Djokovic, especially if Nadal exhausts himself by going greedy, which he usually does on the dirt.  The other semi has us all done up.  We’re hoping that Raonic can get it done.  Nadal-Raonic/Kvitova-Azarenka would be a dream Sunday indeed.  If we can’t have both we’d settle for one.

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