Wimbledon 2017: Petra Kvitova wins biggest fight by returning to tennis, primes herself for battles ahead

There was no shrieking or screaming or falling to the ground. There wasn’t even the traditional celebratory fist pump, with the accompanying ‘Pojd!’ – Czech for ‘Come on!’ Petra Kvitova smiled her small smile, graciously accepted the applause of the Centre Court and walked away a 6-3, 6-4 winner over Sweden’s Johanna Larsson.

Not just because Kvitova is always understated. But also because it’s still more than she would have hoped for a few weeks ago.

On 20 December 2016, Kvitova was attacked in her apartment in Prostějov and suffered multiple injuries to her left hand – her playing hand. It took two surgeries to fix the damage, but doctors had still given her a very slim chance of recovery. The incident, she said last week, “took away her smile.”

Petra Kvitova has battled a career-threatening hand injury to return to court. AP

Petra Kvitova has battled a career-threatening hand injury to return to court. AP

In the moments she had spent sitting on the sofa, watching tennis tournaments from around the world, wondering if she would ever be back competing on the court, Wimbledon had dominated her imagination. Kvitova’s love for the tournament came before her success there. And her road to recovery was paved with Wimbledon in mind. After the career-threatening injury, Kvitova returned to the game at the French Open in May. While she retained her composure through the first match, she shed a few emotional tears after winning the opening round.

“It’s even better that I already played in Paris, as at Wimbledon I won’t feel the same pressure that I would have done if that was my first Grand Slam back,” Kvitova had said.

The 27-year-old went down to Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round in Paris

But she defied all expectations, even her own, as she battled to a title win in Birmingham Classic, the grass-court preparatory event for the Big W. Kvitova overcame the in-form Kristina Mladenovic of France in the quarter-final and fought back from a set down to defeat Ashleigh Barty in the final.

“I just love grass,” she said after winning the title in only her second tournament back. “It feels like home. I love the movement on grass. I love the flat shots, I love the serve and volley and the drop shots and the slice. I love everything about it.”

Evidently so. She had made her breakthrough on grass, winning the 2011 Wimbledon Championships by beating former champion Maria Sharapova. Even at 21 she had the poise and the craftiness to work with the surface and became the first player born in the 1990s to win a Grand Slam. On arriving at Wimbledon this time, seeded no 11, Kvitova tweeted that she was “Back in my happy place.”

“It was my dream to come here to play. That was the goal of my recovery,” she said. “For me, Wimbledon is in my heart. It’s the biggest one.”

Playing only her third tournament since the recovery, Kvitova is still the emotional and the bookmakers' favourite to take the crown. Venus Williams and Kvitova are the only two players in the women’s draw of 128 who have won the singles crown before, giving them a slight edge over the rest in this wide open women’s field.

“I don't think it is very realistic,” Kvitova said in an emotional BBC interview. “I don't feel like a favourite. I'm not here to win it. I already won the biggest fight before; I won because I'm here.”

On Monday, she walked out on Centre Court, her favourite court, to continue her remarkable comeback to tennis. In her player box, friends, family and coaches wore t-shirts, saying ‘Courage, Belief, Pojd’. She had also invited her surgeon, Dr Radek Kerble, who had stitched her hand back, and his wife for the match to mark her gratitude.

But on the court, Kvitova did a good job blocking out the wave of emotion flowing from the stands. She had won her war, now it was time to do battle. The Czech did start nervously, serving three double faults to lose her opening service game. But once she had found her big serve, and lawn-mowing groundstrokes, she was back in business. Kvitova took the first set 6-3, and overcame a late surge from Larsson in the second. She served an ace down the ‘T’ to close out the set 6-4 and the match in an hour and 24 minutes.

The Czech, standing tall at 6-feet, struck 31 winners to eight from her Swedish opponent. But her performance on the day was far from smooth; Kvitova still needs to be more consistent with the serves and her movement was at times sluggish. Six months away from the game can do that. She can’t yet completely clench her fists to accentuate her ‘Pojds’, but Kvitova can well grip the tennis racquet and power past rivals.

The six months away, where she had to live through physical and emotional scars, have also brought perspective.

“I think that before I was very nervous before every match. Now I see that I shouldn't be,” she had said before opening her Wimbledon campaign. “There's more important things in the life than just tennis.”

Updated Date: Jul 04, 2017 11:43 AM

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