Last Sunday, world number three and second-seeded Angelique Kerber was dumped out in the opening round of the Mutua Madrid Open by Barbora Strycova convincingly in straight sets in a match which lasted just over 70 minutes. The newly-minted Australian Open champion was clearly out-of-sorts during the match and will want to put this loss behind her heading into the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome which begins next week.
Petra Kvitova, who won Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014, gave her opinion on Kerber's life on and outside the tour since the German's amazing triumph in Melbourne in January and how she is dealing with the expectations.
Fatigue caught up with Kerber in Madrid
The tournament in the Spanish capital began with 16 seeds among the 64-player field, but by the time the quarterfinals loomed, there was a just one standing, sixth-seeded Simona Halep. The top three seeds, Agnieszka Radwanska, Kerber and Garbine Muguruza, all lost before the round of 16. Fourth-seeded Victoria Azarenka and fifth-seeded Kvitova departed in the round of 16. Kvitova, who was the defending champion, fell in an error-strewn performance against Daria Gavrilova.
In the post-match interview after her loss, Kvitova talked about the depth of the game currently and related it to Kerber's loss, stating "I know how difficult women's tennis is right now. For Angie, it's really difficult. She just won Stuttgart, and I think she would be very exhausted afterward. And Barbora, of course, is always giving a hard time on the court." Strycova definitely used her all-court skills to her advantage, denying Kerber of the win ultimately.
Living up to the expectations as a Grand Slam champion
After winning her first Wimbledon title in 2011, Kvitova was clearly overwhelmed by her new status as a Grand Slam champion. She went on to win just two of her next five matches, including an opening round loss at the US Open to Alexandra Dulgheru.
She rebounded well by winning the WTA Finals in Istanbul with a splendid 5-0 record in all matches played. She made history by becoming just the third woman after Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova to win the year-ending championship on debut. She capped off her 2011 season 115 points shy of the world number one spot. The Czech, who then won her second Wimbledon title in 2014, remarked that it made it much easier for her to cope with her Grand Slam champion status.
When Kerber collapsed on Rod Laver Arena in tears after converting championship point, she knew she had won her first Grand Slam title and that life will never be the same again. The ensuing weeks following her triumph in Melbourne saw her win just one of her next four matches. The sole win, which came in Fed Cup duty (she recorded a 1-1 record in both her rubbers), meant that she was winless in WTA-level competition, with losses to Zheng Saisai (Doha) and Denisa Allertova (Indian Wells).
The German, however, has since found her groove again. After her loss to Allertova, she soared to the Miami semifinals, but was stopped by eventual champion Victoria Azarenka. The defence of her title in Charleston was cut short in the semifinals when she retired to Sloane Stephens with a viral illness, but nevertheless it was still a good result. Moving on to Stuttgart, in front of a home crowd, the German successfully defended her title (for the first time in her career).
Regarding this, Kvitova mentioned "From my side, I know how difficult it is. Czech Republic is kind of a small country if I compare it to Germany. So I can't really imagine German fans. Overall, like it's not really easy that everybody is expecting that you are going to win everything. All of the players are just motivated to beat the Grand Slam champion, especially if it's this year. I think that Angie showed great tennis in Stuttgart she's kind of taking it nicely, so far. So I hope that she will find a way to deal with all the pressure."
Both lefties are drawn into the same quarter of the draw in Rome. Given the level of their encounters in the past, this will surely be a much-anticipated quarterfinal match-up. Kvitova will seek to the take the lead in their head-to-head once again after finishing second best in their last two matches.