(Recasts with final opponent, adds quotes, background)
By David Goodman
LONDON, July 3 Petra Kvitova ruthlessly ended the grand slam hopes of her friend Lucie Safarova in Thursday's all-Czech semi-final and set her sights on claiming a second Wimbledon title against a young upstart chasing her first.
The 2011 champion overcame the plucky resistance of Safarova 7-6 (6) 6-1 to set up a showdown with 20-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who reached her maiden grand slam final by seeing off third seed Simona Halep.
Kvitova, whose Wimbledon triumph as a 21-year-old prompted nine-times singles champion Martina Navratilova to predict that the young Czech would go on to dominate the women's game, feels ready to start fulfilling expectations.
"I think these three years were really up and down. I knew that a lot of people were probably expecting something more from me," the 24-year-old told reporters.
"But on the other side, I was still in the top 10 and I did everything I could. I was practising very hard and everything ... I'm back in the final and I'm feeling well."
Bouchard, meanwhile, is a leading light among the new generation of players that have wowed the All England Club this year and reached the semi-finals of both the Australian and French Opens.
Sixth seed Kvitova remains favourite for Saturday's final, but is taking nothing for granted in a tournament that has thrown up more than its fair share of surprises.
"I find her a very solid and talented player," Kvitova said of Bouchard. "She really seems confident in her game right now. She's moving very well. She's playing aggressively from near the baseline."
So, too, 27-year-old Safarova, having not lost a set en route to her first grand slam semi-final at the 37th time of asking.
"I knew that it was going to be a very tough match against her," Kvitova said of her friend. "I think she played her best tennis of the tournament."
But as tough as it was physically and emotionally, Kvitova simply had too much firepower for the 23rd seed, whom she had beaten on all five of their previous meetings.
Safarova had her serve broken in the opening game before settling into the unfamiliar surroundings of Centre Court and producing a series of venomous winners as the big-hitting left-handers slugged it out from the baseline.
She broke back in the fourth game and matched the powerful Kvitova every step of the way until the 2011 champion made the decisive breakthrough with a breathtaking cross-court forehand clinching a scintillating tiebreak.
Bloodied but unbowed, Safarova continued to attack at every opportunity. But she lacked the consistency required to unsettle her opponent, who stepped up a gear in the second set to build a 3-0 lead.
Safarova stemmed the flow in the fourth game but by then Kvitova had her measure and continued the relentless barrage of fierce returns and passing shots to secure another tilt at the Wimbledon title.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez and Stephen Wood)