NEW HAVEN — The crowd of 3,567 at the Connecticut Tennis Center Wednesday night was solidly behind 20-year-old American Madison Keys in her second-round Connecticut Open match against defending champion Petra Kvitova.
They encouraged her with cries of "Come on, kid," cheered her when she held off match point numerous times and applauded her 118 mph serves.
But without a lot of fanfare, Kvitova, the Czech player who won the tournament in 2012 and last year, rallied to a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over Keys to advance to the quarterfinals Thursday. Kvitova will play Agnieszka Radwanska in the third afternoon match on Stadium Court. Play starts at 1 p.m.
Kvitova, who has played in the main draw five times at New Haven and was the runner-up in 2013, was OK with the pro-Keys sentiment.
"I know, but I still heard a little bit — 'Petra,'" she said in a whisper, smiling.
"I totally understand, if we are playing in Czech, it's the same. I told [the crowd after the match] I'm kind of sad I beat an American but … I'm happy."
She grinned. She felt pretty good Wednesday night after what has been a rough summer. Kvitova was diagnosed with mononucleosis earlier this month, and Sunday, Kvitova said she was still feeling tired and sleepy in general, and fatigued during matches.
She was cleared to play by her doctor but wasn't 100 percent, losing in the second round in both Toronto and Cincinnati before coming to New Haven.
"I told my coach the first matches I played here in U.S. and Toronto, I didn't win a set," she said. "Then I won a set. Then I won two sets. So it's improving.
"It's been kind of weird. I didn't know what to expect from myself because I didn't have great preparation before coming to the U.S."
The weather was less humid Wednesday than it had been, which helped the second-seeded Kvitova, who had a first-round bye in the tournament.
"I think the conditions were perfect for me," she said. "I felt good. I didn't have any troubles with physical anything, so I'm happy for it. It's tough, every day is different. I don't know how I'm going to feel tomorrow or the day after. I'm taking it day by day."
The last time the two faced each other, Keys upset Kvitova, now ranked fifth in the world, in the round of 32 at the Australian Open. Keys was 19 at the time and advanced to the semifinals, where she lost to Serena Williams.
Wednesday, she felt like she played better than she has lately.
"It's a massive improvement from last week," said Keys, who is ranked 19th. I just have to learn from those one or two points and move forward.
"There were moments of good tennis and that's all you can ask for the week before a Slam."
The two held serve in the third set until Kvitova broke Keys to go up 3-2. But she started that game down 0-40.
"That was a difficult game," Kvitova said. "It was a pretty bad game for me, I started really bad, then I hit a few good serves, which helps.
"I played better in the rallies [in the second and third set]. I was missing the shots, after one or two shots, when we played in the first set. She was playing very fast and strong and I wanted to be the first one to do that. My serve was better in the second and third set, for sure."
Kvitova's next opponent, Radwanska, has already played two matches to Kvitova's one. But Kvitova holds a 5-2 advantage against Radwanska, ranked 15th in the world. The two last played last year in the WTA Finals in Singapore, where Radwanska won, 6-2, 6-3.
"She's very smart on the court," Kvitova said. "I have a good record against her. I will try to continue. I know she's playing good here. She won two matches already. She is going to be a tough opponent for sure. I played a good second and third set today so I hope it will continue."
In the night doubles match Wednesday, Julia Goerges and Lucie Hradecka defeated Americans Lauren Davis and Alison Riske, 6-3, 6-2.