Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will play Victoria Azarenka in the WTA Championships final on Sunday with the No. 2 ranking on the line along with a $1.5 million paycheque.
Kvitova, a Czech lefthander with booming serves, rallied to defeat U.S. Open winner Samantha Stosur 5-7, 6-3, 6-3 in the semifinals on Saturday, while fourth-ranked Azarenka defeated Vera Zvonareva 6-2, 6-3.
Kvitova beat Azarenka in the semifinals en route to winning her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon this year. She's counting on a psychological edge after defeating Azarenka in both the matches they played this season.
"Hopefully, it will be better for me, mentally," Kvitova said. "We know each other very well."
Azarenka said she'd need to blunt Kvitova's powerful serve when they meet at the Sinan Erdem Dome in Istanbul, which is hosting the championships for the first time. Some 12,000 people attended the semifinals.
"She really goes for her shots," said Azarenka, who has won three titles this season. "So sometimes she doesn't find the rhythm. But at the same time, she can be on and just hit winners."
Against Stosur, Kvitova hit big serves and groundstrokes and moved to the net. In the first set, Stosur capitalised on a pair of service breaks and her own strong kick serve.
Kvitova took early leads in the second and third sets with a power game that has propelled her from outside the top 30 at the start of the year to No. 3.
"It was very tough to break her," Kvitova said. "It was a great match for us."
Azarenka's solid groundstrokes forced errors from Zvonareva, who was never able to gain momentum in the match. Zvonareva held two break points in the last game, but could not convert them.
One game in the second set lasted nearly 12 minutes and ended when the Russian held serve to tie at 2-all, but Azarenka broke her next two service games.
"The score doesn't say much about the game," Azarenka said. "It was important to be consistent and aggressive, find the right balance."
At 21, Kvitova was the youngest of the four semifinalists and hadn't dropped a set in the round-robin phase of the $4.9 million WTA Championships. She beat Stosur in their two previous meetings, including a tough third-round win at the Australian Open this year and a comfortable victory at the 2008 French Open.
Stosur said the momentum shifted during the match, and she was just "trying to hang in there" during the first three or four games when Kvitova was at her best. She said playing the left-handed Kvitova is difficult.
"She'd be hard anyway, regardless of whether she's lefty or right-handed," said Stosur, who praised the Czech for her achievements this year. "She's got the game where you will see a flurry of errors, but she'll flip it over and you'll see that streak of winners."
Stosur plans to take two or three weeks off before preparing for the Australian Open in her home country in January. Despite the loss, the seventh-ranked Stosur said she was pleased with how she played against Kvitova.
"This was definitely my best match against her so far," she said. "At least I was able to come off the court knowing that I did everything I could."
Kvitova, who was making her debut at the WTA Championships, beat Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon final. She has won four other titles this year, including Brisbane, Paris indoors, Madrid and Linz.
Stosur, who defeated Serena Williams in the U.S. Open final, was playing in the semifinals of the championships for the second straight year.
Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki was knocked out in the round-robin phase.
The WTA and BNP Paribas, the title sponsor, announced Saturday a joint donation of $250,000 to the Turkish Red Crescent to assist victims of the earthquake in eastern Turkey that killed at least 580 people on Oct. 23.
The WTA Championships will be played in Istanbul through 2013.