Stuttgart Open: Petra Kvitova showcases newfound composure to close in on World No. 1 ranking with season's second title

Currently at two title wins of four finals this year, one of them a Grand Slam, 2019’s Kvitova also has patience and the psychological advantage that form brings

Anuradha Santhanam April 30, 2019 19:59:26 IST
Stuttgart Open: Petra Kvitova showcases newfound composure to close in on World No. 1 ranking with season's second title
  • Every WTA tournament on the calendar so far this year had a different singles champion — until Sunday. Petra Kvitova, with her quick 6-3, 7-6 win at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, managed to break the cycle and make another stride towards the top of the WTA rankings

  • Known for her quick-fire, fast game, Kvitova has, in the past year, mellowed, and that mellowing has been crucial in her crafting crucial breaks and capitalising on break points

  • Currently at two title wins of four finals this year, one of them a Grand Slam, 2019’s Kvitova also has patience and the psychological advantage that form brings

Every WTA tournament on the calendar so far this year had a different singles champion — until Sunday. Petra Kvitova, with her quick 6-3, 7-6 win at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, managed to break the cycle and make another stride towards the top of the WTA rankings.

Stuttgart Open Petra Kvitova showcases newfound composure to close in on World No 1 ranking with seasons second title

Czech Republic's Petra Kvitova celebrates with the trophy after the winning the Stuttgart Tennis Grand Prix. Reuters

Incidentally, the victory came against Anett Kontaveit, who, in 2018, denied Kvitova a quarter-final berth at the French Open in what was a fairly closely-fought match in the end. 18 tournaments into the WTA Calendar, Petra Kvitova has already marked her fight towards the top — and already, she is almost there, poised at World No 2 and catching up quickly to the top-ranked Naomi Osaka.

For the past two years, Petra Kvitova has been more than formidable — but in recent times, she has truly come into her own on the court. Not only does Kvitova have the most titles this year, but she has also made the most finals so far — including at the Australian Open, where she put up a stern fight against current No. 1 Osaka.

For Petra Kvitova, staging a comeback has been different than the process most players go through — a unique experience that perhaps only Monica Seles would ever be able to relate to. In the winter of 2016, Kvitova was stabbed by an unnamed assailant at her home in her dominant, playing left arm, an attack which resulted in all the fingers of her left hand being hurt, and the nerves in her index finger and thumb severed. The physical injuries aside, Kvitova also suffered serious mental health issues in the aftermath of the attack, which she says left her “unable to trust people” completely

Although she returned to the tour in 2017, Kvitova struggled to find her groove and consistency; completely understandable, given the circumstances of her return. Indeed, after being stabbed in the arm after what was then believed to be a “burglary gone wrong”, Kvitova was traumatised both physically and mentally, with doctors unsure she would be able to play again at the level she had been, given the severity of her injuries. The following year would be her first year since 2010 without winning a Mandatory or Premier 5 title.

2018, however, saw a reinvented Kvitova, less flighty but just as powerful, starting with her title win at St. Petersburg on hard courts. Particularly successful at the Fed Cup last year, Kvitova crashed out to Angelique Kerber at Stuttgart last year, but quickly followed it up with title wins at the Prague Open and the Madrid Open — both clay court tournaments, with both titles coming in the span of two weeks of each other. Kvitova’s game may not necessarily have been suited to clay in its traditional form — she is better on quicker surfaces, particularly grass courts, but you wouldn’t know it from her performances over the past one year, given her consistent results across every surface.

Soon after her title win at Madrid, Kvitova followed that up with a title defense at the grass courts of Birmingham, and despite a lacklustre end to the year, ended at World No. 7 — finishing in the top ten for the first time in the past four seasons.

But 2019 has been different, improved, and already more consistent for the Czech. The 29-year-old put up a phenomenal battle against the reigning No. 1; despite a first-set loss, and staring down championship point against her rival, Kvitova was still able to take the second set despite an eventual loss.

Known for her quick-fire, fast game, Kvitova has, in the past year, mellowed, and that mellowing has been crucial in her crafting crucial breaks and capitalising on break points, something that eluded her earlier. In her own words, Kvitova said she no longer plays her games “hastily, like I used to”.

Her shot-making and her skill can be flawless when she wants it to be, and in terms of the technical game, Kvitova is a power-hitter up there with the best of them. Where she once lacked: in playing impatient tennis, and failing to maintain consistency within matches, Kvitova has bettered herself on both counts. Stretched to some long-drawn-out points, matches and tiebreaks in every tournament she has played thus far, this time Kvitova does not seem quite as flighty, quite as rushed in her tennis, and not trigger-happy with her returns. Coupled with her prodigious skill, Kvitova has gone from an already dangerous opponent to one who, on her day, may as well be undefeatable.

As of Monday, Kvitova is only 136 points behind Osaka in the race for No. 1 — a ranking that Kvitova herself has never been at before. Comebacks are one thing when they’re solely fitness-related — but to reinvent herself and come back to her old form after an experience as traumatic as Kvitova’s — and in even better form than before, is almost unheard of.

Earlier this year, Kvitova has said that the mobility in her hand was “still not 100%”, and she still experiences post-traumatic stress disorder and the emotional fallout of the incident. But for all that she has been struggling with, Kvitova — the winner of two Wimbledon titles, has come back this year stronger than she ever has been, performing consistently against a roster of WTA players that has seen more variety than it has in the past few years. Already, she is back to her own highest ranking of World No. 2, which she first hit eight years ago, in 2011.

Now, with points to defend in the clay season, a better success rate on the dirt and a title win under her belt, Kvitova is chasing more than just a win, a title, a trophy, or a prize - now, it is about her reinvention — bigger, better and stronger than ever, resulting in her ascent to World No. 1.

Currently at two title wins of four finals this year, one of them a Grand Slam, 2019’s Kvitova also has patience and the psychological advantage that form brings. Given Kvitova’s own performances and the injury struggles of rival Naomi Osaka, women’s tennis may well be on the cusp of a brand new No.1 — with quite the inspirational journey on the way there.

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