Petra Kvitova just beat Victoria Azarenka at the WTA Championships, and has made a compelling case for herself as player of the year.
The WTA has been in search of a dominant player from the new generation for the last few years, as Justine Henin has retired and Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters both have played limited schedules.
Kvitova might be that player.
While the Danish Caroline Wozniacki will finish as World No. 1 for the second year in a row, a very impressive accomplishment given that she's failed to reach a slam final let alone win it in the past two years, few will call her a dominant No. 1.
Nevertheless, she has won six tournaments and done exactly well enough to finish ahead of every other player.
But the gap is closing.
With Petra Kvitova's winning the WTA Championships in Istanbul, while an under-the-weather Wozniacki only won one match, her lead in the rankings is down to a mere 115 points.
Kvitova has also won six tournaments, but her six wins include Madrid, the WTA Championships and the most prestigious of them all, Wimbledon.
In other words, while Wozniacki is the year-end No. 1, it's hard not to see Kvitova as player of the year.
The question now seems not to be whether but when Petra Kvitova will take over the No. 1 ranking. The gap between them is insignificant, and with Wozniacki having more to defend in Australia (and in the early spring), that could well prove to be Kvitova's coronation ceremony.
What makes Kvitova's season more impressive is that she started it ranked 34th in the world.
While she had shown signd of what was to come in 2010, when she routed third-seeded Wozniacki 6-2, 6-0 and subsequently made it all the way to the semis at Wimbledon, it wasn't until this year that her potential really showed.
An early sign came when she won Brisbane and followed it up by beating Samantha Stosur at the Australian Open before falling to Vera Zvonareva in the quarters.
Still, there was no reason to pay too much attention just yet. But then she beat then-world No. 1 Kim Clijsters in straights in the final of a Premier indoor tournament in Paris.
Well, Clijsters can be streaky.
Then Kvitova won Madrid, one of the biggest mandatory Premiers on the WTA, beating Zvonareva, Na Li and Victoria Azarenka in the process.
Should we take notice? Kvitova had climbed from 34th to 10th in the space of four months.
Yet it wasn't until Kvitova won Wimbledon that she truly attracted attention and became a known name among most fans. Here she beat Azarenka and Maria Sharapova in the semi and final.
A lapse in form followed the biggest victory of her career, before she returned to dominance to win Linz and the WTA championships, finishing the year with a 19-0 indoor record.
The future of women's tennis?
Despite the fact that Wozniacki has held the No. 1 ranking for more than a year now, few have ever picture her as a dominant future No. 1 with many slam titles to her name.
Well, for one thing, Kvitova has already done what Wozniacki has yet to do: she's won when it mattered the most.
But the predominant reason is the difference in their games.
Kvitova is an ultra-agressive player with big shots on both wings (the forehand being the less error-prone one) and a mindset that propels her to go for the lines more often than not. It's not uncommon to see Kvitova hit 40+ winners in a match.
She has a terrific return game, a massive forehand, a big backhand and a good serve.
Wozniacki has been criticized for her position as world No. 1, partly because she doesn't win the slams, and partly because of her non-imposing game. It's not uncommon to see Wozniacki hit fewer than 10 winners in a match, and more than 20 winners in a match is not that common.
The difference is that Kvitova has every match on her racquet. If she's hot, there's not much her opponent can do about it, as Stosur attested after her semifinal loss.
Wozniacki, on the other hand, frequently runs into an opponent who's hot on the day and beats her off the court. When she meets a big hitter, the match is often 'off' her racquet, so to speak.
And this is why Kvitova is so exciting in terms of potential—at her best, she can hit any player off the court.
Moreover, as I wrote in my preview to the WTA Championships final, the really scary part for the rest of the WTA tour is that Kvitova is still so raw and still has so much pure potential rather than a finished player.
She can still improve her volleys a fair bit, she can still improve her already dangerous lefty serve, she can still improve her movement and court positioning and she can still add more variety to her game, which is still mostly, though not only, hit-or-miss.
What she does have already though, is mental strength. She doesn't get discouraged when her game disappears for a set or so, but continues to play her game in the belief that when she finds it again, it will be enough to turn the match around.
Last week in Istanbul showed that it was against Agnieszka Radwanska, Stosur and Azarenka.
Given how offensively she plays, her bad patches where she's spraying errors are unlikely to disappear all together.
But with more experience, she's likely to learn a better balance between when to play all-out offense and when to hold back just a little.
If or when that happens, along with an improved net-game, the rest of the WTA will have to either succumb or face up to the challenge.
Of course, Serena Williams and Kim Clijsters may have something to say about that.
Kvitova has never beaten Serena, but she's also only met her twice, both times when Serena was World No. 1 and Kvitova wasn't ranked inside the top 60 yet.
Barring injuries, both Kim and Serena should be a force at the biggest tournaments in 2012.
Nevertheless, the WTA might just have found the face of the future, and that future may have arrived already.
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