Fortunes change in quick, unwitting ways in tennis. You are floating and winning everything one part of the season and then your forehand buries you, your game dips and you are fighting it out on a tour that you believed you had said goodbye to a long time ago.
In 2014, Eugenie Bouchard had one such breakout year. She reached semi-finals or better in the year's first 3 Grand Slams, capping with a final at Wimbledon. She reached No 5 in the rankings and then, something got lost. It is 2018 and Bouchard is still figuring it out. She is now ranked 193 and is currently at Roehampton playing the Wimbledon Qualifying competition. Earlier, she beat the likes of Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Carla Suarez Navarro. This week she is in the draw with Richel Hogenkamp, Mariana Duque-Marino and Karolina Muchova.
Who handed Bouchard the defeat in the 2014 Wimbledon finals in what is believed to be one of the greatest Grand Slam final performances in tennis? — Petra Kvitova
Life, like tennis fortunes, can also change drastically as Kvitova discovered in December 2016. Her off-season turned into a nightmare when a knife-wielding invader robbed her home in Prostejov, Czech Republic. Kvitova in trying to defend herself suffered serious injuries to her racquet holding left hand, requiring four hours of surgery to repair the tendons and nerves damaged in the assault. She recently wrote about the whole ordeal — from the attack to the rehab — in her own words and she begins with, not about the physical pain or doubts about ever lifting a racquet again, but by explaining how she used to look for the attacker around her everywhere.
Kvitova wrote about how she used to check herself and her surroundings to see if he is there somewhere (the attacker was taken into custody in May 2018, almost 1.5 years after the incident) around her, waiting to pounce on her. Forget for a moment the forehand coming back or the volleys turning sharper, imagine playing on the sport's biggest courts and wondering if someone would jump on to the court holding a knife, a form of attack not alien to tennis and its biggest stars.
Time and a little bit of luck combine to heal physical injuries, but the mental trauma demands a more incisive and collective handling. It is an emotional process on a different track that runs parallel to tennis-related rehabilitation.
Kvitova loves to take the ball early and that's a philosophy she followed even with her comeback, at times against the wishes of her doctors. Initially sidelined from competitive tennis for at least six months, the 2011 and 2014 Wimbledon champion picked up the racquet 12 weeks after her surgery. She decided to return to competition at the French Open 2017, winning her opening match against Julia Boserup in 74 minutes. It was an unsurprisingly emotional comeback for Kvitova. If one didn't know better, it looked like she had just won her first Grand Slam. But such was the weight of the moment that Kvitova dropped her racquet, her hands covering her face, struggled through a heavy walk to the net fighting back tears for the handshake with Boserup.
Admittedly, clay is her least favourite surface, and grass is where her attacking, impatient game and powerful flat forehand come together better. But on that day, Kvitova would have played on stones if it meant she could just do what she loves to do — play tennis and win. Her forehand is one of the best shots in women's tennis today, a coming together of precision and power. If you check the slow-motion videos on YouTube, you'd see that a lot is going on there. Her height may impede movement but the 6-foot open stance while preparing for a forehand can instill fear. Even her non-hitting hand is in play here, as it seemingly points ahead for a second but gradually moves behind in harmony with the left hand zipping out to meet the ball, and in the blink of an eye, the follow-through has the racquet settled firmly in that right hand.
Just over a year ago, these set of hands required machines to move the fingers because Kvitova couldn't do it herself. And then in June 2017, she won a title on grass in Birmingham just weeks after her return. She defended that title last week, looking strong not only on her favourite surface but more so for a longer run through the year. She has 5 titles in 2018 spread across surfaces, which is more than any other WTA player.
Petra Kvitova has a moniker on the Internet — her name is written as P3tra — that she is aware of and loves to talk about. It refers to her finding something during the third set to edge past her opponent and probably began as a jab for her habit of turning straightforward matches to 3-set slug-outs. It feels like we are currently seeing an endlessly resurgent P3tra in play, erasing the second set that was her life between December 2016 and May 2017. And what's more, her favourite Grand Slam begins next week with her as one of the serious contenders.
On Kvitova's return, her colleagues Madison Keys and Alize Cornet both tweeted that they cried the happiest tears in seeing her win. They must know what's at stake, what goes into a tennis player's life, what it takes to train and lose and win, and the myriad ways in which fortunes can change in tennis.
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Updated Date: Jun 28, 2018 17:24:28 IST