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Czech mates leave friendship in locker room

Lucie Safarova prepares to hit a forehand
by Helen Gilbert
Wednesday 2 July 2014

They’ve known each other for a decade, play tennis at the same club, are Fed cup team-mates and close friends but when Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova step on court for their all-Czech semi-final on Thursday the pleasantries will have to remain in the locker room. A potential Wimbledon title is at stake.

It’s been almost three years since Kvitova lifted the Venus Rosewater dish on Centre Court as the No.8 seed. On that occasion she dispatched Maria Sharapova for the loss of only seven games and, in doing so, became the first left-hander to win the title since her Czech compatriot Martina Navratilova, 21 years before.

Fast forward to 2014 and the modest 24-year-old is in the Wimbledon semi-finals for the third time in her career and looking to emulate the success that put her on the Grand Slam map. Only this time Kvitova is seeded two spots higher at No.6 and Maria Sharapova is nowhere in sight. So what are her chances of replicating the most momentous day so far in her tennis career? Good it seems.

On paper, she is the second favourite behind No.3 seed Simona Halep. Her firecracker serve and powerful, baseline game are among the dangerous grass court weapons in her armoury, plus she’s relatively fresh: the only set she dropped on her way to the last four was the opening one against Venus Williams in the third round.

Although her right thigh has been heavily strapped during matches - to protect a hamstring strain - she’s been moving freely throughout her contests. Now the only person standing in the way of a final place is her chum Lucie Safarova – a player she has beaten on all five of their previous meetings.

The last time was in Eastbourne and involved a tussle that stretched to three sets. Despite triumphing, Kvitova is not resting on her laurels. “It was big fight until the end,” she said. “I'm expecting a tough battle again. Of course, she's playing amazing. She's in semi-final... it's going to be great match I think.”

Safarova, who is making her ninth Wimbledon appearance, is certainly brimming with confidence. She has not dropped a set on her journey though the draw, she is making her maiden grand slam semi-final appearance and has far surpassed her best outing here – a third round showing back in 2007.

Furthermore, she rattled through her last two matches in under an hour which means she will be suitably fresh for the encounter. Not only that but the 27-year-old, who cites clay as her favourite surface, also recorded her best result at Roland Garros last month in reaching the quarter-finals.

At 5ft 9in, the slender left-hander might be smaller than her statuesque 6ft opponent but she also possesses an equally aggressive, powerful game which sees her take the ball early with devastating effect.

She is certainly under no illusion about the task that lies in front of her. “Petra is loving the grass, she’s a former champion, a great top 10 player and I never beat her but I was really close at Eastbourne, two weeks ago. She’s a tough one but I have nothing to lose but I’m going to just go and enjoy.”

The world No.23 also described Kvitova’s 2011 Wimbledon win as an inspirational moment. “It’s also motivating to see that somebody who is so close to you is reaching the best results. I think that, yes, it’s motivating for you to try to make it too,” she said.

Only one women will emerge triumphant on the day, but at least the Czech Republic will be guaranteed one player in the final.

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