PALERMO, ITALY: Petra Kvitova brought some sunshine to Czech tennis on a damp and overcast day in Palermo. Her 26 62 60 victory over Sara Errani pushed this fascinating Fed Cup by BNP Paribas semifinal into a third day and keeps open both the line-up and the host nation for the 50th anniversary final of the premier team competition in women's tennis.
On a day of leaden skies and several hours of persistent rain, Kvitova turned what was becoming a nightmare weekend into one of her most impressive performances on clay, winning the last 11 games as daylight began to fade.
Although the centre court at the Circolo de Tenis club has floodlights, they aren't of sufficient strength to play championship-level tennis into the night, so the fourth match between Roberta Vinci and Lucie Safarova was not started. They must come back at 11 o'clock (local time) on Monday morning, Italy leading 2-1 with two matches to play.
Seldom can Kvitova have had such an awful weekend of serving. She lost all her service games against Roberta Vinci on Saturday, and her first two against Errani, which meant the first one she held was her 11th service game of the tie.
The red and blue 'kinesio tape' she wore on her left shoulder may have looked very patriotic, but it made many wonder whether it masked a shoulder problem that might partly explain her 13 double faults in her two matches.
But once she held her first game, everything fell into place, and midway through the second set she began to resemble a runner breaking from the pack, leaving Errani trailing ever further behind.
Play finally began at 16:27, almost five hours later than scheduled, with an atmosphere that was slightly surreal. Understandably, many of the fans had given up hope of seeing play and gone home, so the stadium was only about 20 per cent full, but those who had remained were the die-hard fans whose pent up frustrations found expression in their voices, making for a raucous if slightly echo-laden ambience.
Within seven minutes of the start, drizzle was falling again, but the pent-up frustrations of the players meant it would have taken a tornado to drive them off court.
Kvitova looked to be striking the ball much better than she did against Roberta Vinci on Saturday, but on a slow court playing even more heavily because of the rain and overcast conditions, she couldn't hit through Errani's defences.
For the first 40 minutes, Errani was simply the better claycourt player. When caught out of position she would throw in a drop shot or a slice. When Kvitova was caught out of position, she would struggle to know which shot to play. The woman in the white skirt looked comfortable on the clay, while the woman in the red skirt seemed uncertain how to deal with it.
Errani had set point after just 27 minutes at 5-0, before Kvitova finally won a service game. But after a couple of games of the second set the match began to turn, indeed after Errani held serve to lead 2-1, Kvitova didn't lose another game.
The crucial phase came when the Czech broke to lead 3-2, winning four points on the run from 40-15 down. The winning shot in the game was a glorious backhand down the line that seemed to indicate she was finally finding her range. Errani had a break back point in the following game as Kvitova incurred a time violation, but Kvitova was into her stride, and after an hour and a quarter, the match was level.
Errani wisely changed her shirt before the final set, giving herself time to regroup mentally, and she looked sharp again in the first two games, which were both long. But both of them went to Kvitova, and with it her confidence grew and grew. Errani's last resistance was in saving three match points, but while she fought to the last, she never looked likely to burst Kvitova's bubble, and the Czech ran out the winner in just under two hours.
The weather forecast for Monday is for some more rain, so the Vinci-Safarova match could well start in overcast conditions. That may well favour the Czech, and if it goes to a live doubles, Italy's captain Corrado Barazzutti is likely to replace his nominated pair of Francesca Schiavone and Flavia Pennetta with the ITF world champions for 2012, Errani and Vinci.
Follow this tie as it happens: Live scores or Watch Live
Captain Corrado Barazzutti (ITA) - 21/04/2013
Sara Errani (ITA) - 21/04/2013
Petra Kvitova (CZE) - 21/04/2013
Captain Petr Pala (CZE) - 21/04/2013