Just two years ago, the tennis world raised a quizzical eyebrow when one of its more enduring stars announced she was taking a break from the sport. Petra Kvitova had started 2015 well, by season opener standards. She made the semi-finals of the season opener in Shenzhen, she won the Sydney tournament as the last tournament ahead of the first Slam of the year, but maybe a surprise loss to a fellow big hitter Madison Keys in the third round of the Australian Open, and no back to back wins in the Middle-Eastern swing of Dubai and Doha plus the relentless grind of the tour in general had taken its toll.
Kvitova pulled out of the ‘Sunshine Double of Indian Wells and Miami, citing exhaustion. She made her comeback a month or so later in the Fed Cup semi-final against France in the comparative safety of a home tie before hitting the tour in the clay court season. She came back with style too. Serena Williams had praised her for being bold enough to take the time off in Madrid, after being outhit in Madrid, before Kvitova went on to win the Madrid title. She would go on to reach the WTA Finals at the end of the season.
That was a choice. At the end of last year, that was taken away from her when an intruder posing as a utilities man gained access to the flat before threatening her with a knife. She attained her injuries in self-defence, pulling the knife away from her throat.
Although she cannot talk about the specifics of the case in interviews as it is an on-going investigation, she talked at length in Paris about the slow build up to being able to hit anything at all. How she kept her strength and fitness up in readiness for maybe the two most challenging surfaces, back to back.
Such is the resolve and belief of Kvitova , when she makes up her mind to take a course of action, she knew her return would come.
She told reporters ahead of the start of the French Open: “I mean, not many people believe that I can play tennis again. So I’m happy that I can play. I actually already won my biggest fight. I’m happy that I like challenges. That was one of the biggest, of course. So I stayed in life and I have all my fingers, I can play tennis and I can be here and be in the draw.”
After losing her second match in Paris, the familiar competitive frustrations were there, but after a spell on the hard courts back in Czech Republic she was reunited with the surface that made her.
From memories of seeing her as a completely fearless teen battering her way to the Wimbledon semi-finals, to winning twice – the second time a pretty comprehensive dismantling of pretender to the throne, Eugenie Bouchard, Kvitova has endeared herself to fans, pundits and press alike.
Fast forward to her first competitive match on grass and she was in solid serving and hitting form. Her timing was spot on and with the women’s draw pretty wide open this year,
She said, after her opening win in Birmingham: “It feels different. I mean I’m happy that I have everything done with the media and the pressure and everything as was the comeback in Paris. So I’m glad that now I can focus on tennis, especially on the grass, and I’m just happy that I’m just here to play tennis and not really think about anything else. And that’s important that I am back in reality and just playing the matches.”
‘Eveything bad is for something good’
Two breaks in her career, for two vastly different reasons, so what then has this taught her about her mind-set, then and now.
She told us: “That time when I took off I didn’t play in that month in Miami I felt very exhausted mentally. I felt like empty. I always love to play tennis with the passion and with love, and that time I missed that a bit. From the time when I had the one month off, I came more fresh, if I can say.
“This time I’m fresh, too, but for different reason. I didn’t want a break, but as you said, somebody took it from me. And it wasn’t my truth, but I’m always trying to look positive on the things, so everything bad is for something good. So I feel that I am maybe love tennis even more than before because I know what it means for me.
“And I always know why I’m playing this sport and always love competing, and I missed the fight and I missed adrenaline during the matches. So I’m happy that I have it back.
‘There was time when nobody ever know if I were able to play again, so I’m more appreciated about this time. And probably even if I lose, I will always smile and to be happy that I’m back. So that’s kind of different.”
Kvitova is back in action in the second round of the Aegon Classic on Wednesday.
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