Petra Kvitova — The contender who has already won

Petra Kvitova of Czech Republic serves during her ladies singles third round match against Anett Kontaveit of Estonia during day seven of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 2, 2018 in Paris, France.   | Photo Credit: Getty Images

Seventeen months ago, Petra Kvitova was unsure if she would ever be able to pick up a racquet again. She was attacked by an intruder at her home in Prostejov, Czech Republic. A knife was held to her throat. She fought him, but suffered severe wounds in the encounter: deep lacerations to five fingers on her playing hand, tendons mangled in three of them. This was followed by nearly five hours of surgery.

Cut to 2018, and she is back in the top ten. No tennis player has won more tour titles than her this year: five on all surfaces — St. Petersburg (indoor), Doha (hard), Prague (clay), Madrid (clay) and Birmingham (grass).

Just as she was preparing to go deep at the second Slam of the season, news came in from her hometown. The intruder had been caught.

“I will be the happiest when the story will end, when everything will be done and finished,” Kvitova had said.

A natural grass-courter

Kvitova — currently ranked No. 8 — is on every expert’s favourite list to win Wimbledon this year. Entering the Nature Valley Classic grass tournament at Birmingham as the defending champion, she tweeted, “There’s no place like a grass court.”

Indeed, the grass court has always brought out the best in her. She won her first tournament on grass — an International Tennis Federation junior event at Roehampton in 2007. The All England Club is home turf. She burst onto the scene in 2010, when she reached the semifinals with wins over Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki, before ultimately losing to Serena Williams.

But it was in 2011 that a new star rose over London SW19. Kvitova overwhelmed Maria Sharapova in the final with a withering display of power and might, defeating her in straight sets. She was 21 when she achieved the feat: the sport’s first Grand Slam winner, male or female, to be born in the 1990s.

In the Royal Box, her idol Martina Navratilova led the round of applause.

Kvitova’s talents have been compared to those of Navratilova, the last Czech export to dominate Wimbledon. Like Navratilova, she plays the game left-handed. She may not raid the net like the 18-time Grand Slam winner, but she is, by some measures, the most aggressive player on the WTA tour.

The surface has rewarded her big-hitting style as well. Kvitova plays hard and flat, stays low. Sharapova, one of the most aggressive hitters in the game herself, said Kvitova was “hitting really powerful winners, hitting deeper and harder. That’s her strength.” And yet, her game is a curious mix of energy and velvet-touch subtlety.

Does the grass court reward the best server? Perhaps, if you consider Pete Sampras, Roger Federer and Serena. But with Kvitova, it serves the purpose of starting play rather than ending it. Being a six-foot sturdy southpaw, Kvitova is expected to unleash serves the speed of cannonballs. But you’d be hard-pressed to find one that edges over 100 mph. During her clinical win over Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard at the 2014 Wimbledon final, she served her fastest of the tournament: 113 mph, a rarity. Her win over Sharapova included just one ace.

And yet, her ad-court slicing serve has been described as “devastating” on grass. That serve “almost belongs in a category of its own, because of the slightly different rotational demands it puts on the server’s shoulders,” journalist Pete Bodo wrote in 2011.

Kvitova doesn’t believe in overdoing things. In Game, Set and Match: Secret Weapons of the World’s Top Tennis Players, she describes her serve routine. “Don’t overdo it on the practice court. You don’t want to hit so many serves that you start to feel it in your arm and shoulder and then you’re not right for the matches. Practise the spin and the placements.”

Following her title wins at Wimbledon, Kvitova had expressed a willingness to show versatility on other surfaces as well. But her movement has on many occasions held her back. Her tall frame has not always allowed her to manoeuvre the court easily. This year, her back-to-back wins on clay surprised many, including Kvitova herself. She was both quick and more dynamic, an improvement that will give her a strong advantage going into Wimbledon.

Agent of chaos

If Kvitova makes an early exit at this year’s Wimbledon championships, it would be a shock and yet not at all unexpected. She is often described as an ‘agent of chaos’ — the only thing predictable about her game is its unpredictability. She demolished Sharapova to win the 2011 Wimbledon final and then, eight weeks later, lost in the first round of the U.S. Open.

She once routed Kiki Bertens in a match that lasted all of 36 minutes. But she also played so many three-set matches that she’s been styled ‘P3tra.’ When the women’s field had reached a flux, Kvitova was expected to lead the charge. She halted Serena’s 27-match winning streak in 2015. She was expected to take over. “Anybody who can win Wimbledon twice is pretty good,” former eight-time Grand Slam champion Ivan Lendl, who is not one to distribute comments and compliments easily, had remarked on Kvitova’s grass court prowess.

She has since then struggled both on- and off-court: with injuries, a case of mononucleosis diagnosed in 2015 and regular bouts of asthma. She has found it difficult to cope with the fame that comes with being a Grand Slam champion, even having to employ the services of a sports psychologist.

Tennis has been replete with stories of comebacks since 2017, but how do you come back from a life-disrupting knife attack? Kvitova is a player of few words. She has spoken about the psychological scars from the incident, but also of how much she misses playing on grass. The unexpected news regarding her case might give her some much-needed closure. If she were to win the title, it would be one of the greatest stories the sport has seen.

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Printable version | Sep 26, 2021 4:03:42 AM |

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