There will be some point in every tennis player’s career where challenges surface one after another and it is up to them to take them on, persevere and come out a stronger person. For world number 11 Petra Kvitova, this has been the case for the past 12 months. The 26-year-old was ranked world number two exactly a year ago but mixed results throughout this stretch has seen her exit the top 10 for the first time since September 2013.
Dealing with mononucleosis in 2015
After finishing 2014 on a high, Kvitova went on to win three titles in 2015 with her biggest trophy coming at the Mutua Madrid Open on clay. Her other two titles came in Sydney and New Haven. However, her 2015 season has been impaired to a certain degree by mononucleosis or glandular fever. Sore throat and fatigue are among its notable symptoms.
This was evident as early as January when Kvitova first stated that she was going up against a ‘strange feeling’ in her matches in Sydney despite ending up winning the title. After an early loss at the Australian Open and an ensuing stretch of dire results in the Middle East, she ultimately decided to take a six-week break from tennis, thus missing Indian Wells and Miami. Kvitova rebounded well on clay by winning Madrid, reaching the last eight in Rome and the round of 16 at the French Open, racking in an 11-3 record on the surface.
On grass, nothing went well for the Czech as she looked lost in her crushing three-set defeat by Jelena Jankovic in the third round of Wimbledon where she was the defending champion. It was however, worth noting that she withdrew from Eastbourne the week before with a sore throat (most likely a symptom of mononucleosis), entering Wimbledon having not played any matches on grass.
In August, the diagnosis of the illness was confirmed. She went on to lose her next two matches in Toronto and Cincinnati but defied the odds by defending her New Haven title and making her first ever quarterfinal at the US Open on her eighth attempt.
Kvitova had a memorable Asian swing in 2014, winning Wuhan and finishing runner-up in Beijing. 2015 however, was the reverse, she left both tournaments with just one win. In spite of this, she still managed to qualify for the WTA Finals.
The Czech finished the round robin stage with a losing record of 1-2 and barely made the semifinals where she played some of her best tennis to deny Maria Sharapova her spot in the championship round. Kvitova faced Agnieszka Radwanska in the final and had the upper-hand given she had won the trophy four years prior.
After surrendering the first set in a messy performance, she fought back to take the match to a decider and found herself up a break 2-0, four games away from her second WTA Finals title and her fourth title of 2016. The Czech however, faded away as she went on to win just one more game with Radwanska clawing her way back to eventually prevail 6-2, 4-6, 6-3.
After beginning 2015 as world number four, Kvitova ended the year as world number six and a 38-17 record. Although her performance was clearly hindered by the illness, she still refused to use it as an excuse for her inconsistent results.
Nevertheless, it is an understatement to say that she did not cope well with the illness given she finished her fifth straight year in the top eight, qualified for her fifth consecutive WTA Finals and won three out of the four finals she appeared in.
A dismal first half of 2016
After arriving in Shenzhen for her first tournament of the year, bad news cropped up few days as Kvitova caught a stomach bug which was later diagnosed as gastrointestinal illness. Nevertheless, she still went ahead for her opening match of the season but had no choice but to retire mid-way after dropping the first set to Zheng Saisai. The Czech then decided to withdraw from Sydney where she was the defending champion to fully recuperate.
At the Australian Open, Kvitova entered with no completed matches under her belt but showed no signs of rustiness in avenging her 2014 opening round defeat here in Melbourne against Luksika Kumkhum.
The rustiness bore its ugly side in her ensuing match against home hope Daria Gavrilova. The Czech struggled to find her rhythm and was sent packing by the Aussie in straight sets. Kvitova made a tough decision after Melbourne, announcing that she has parted ways with coach of eight years David Kotyza.
She went on to lose both her Fed Cup rubbers in the first round tie against Romania and left Dubai and Doha with just one win, her second of the year. Things however improved in March when she reached the quarterfinals of Indian Wells, her second in the Californian desert. For the first time since fall of 2015, the Czech scored consecutive wins. There however, she was routed by Radwanska after an erratic performance.
The humidity of Miami definitely does not bode well for Kvitova who is asthmatic, having made just one quarterfinal in her seven prior appearances. After beating Irina Falconi, she found herself in pole position in the opening set against Ekaterina Makarova but lost the plot henceforth, succumbing to the Russian in straight sets.
In April, she disclosed that doubles specialist Frantisek Cermak will be her new coach going forward. Moving on to clay, like the past couple years, her campaign on the dirt began on the indoor courts of Stuttgart.
Since making the semifinals in 2012, she made the last eight in 2013 but left the tournament winless in her last two visits. This time, the tables turned around as she made the semifinals once again, most notably collecting her first top 10 win of the year over Garbiñe Muguruza in the quarterfinals. This remains her best result of the year so far.
High on confidence, the Czech entered Madrid as the defending champion and was not troubled in the first two rounds till she came across Gavrilova. She once again could not seem to solve the riddle of the Aussie and was dumped out in straight sets. Later, it was revealed that she was carrying an abdominal injury from Stuttgart which limited her practice sessions pre-tournament.
Her fortunes continued to tumble in Rome the following week as she lost her opening match to Madison Keys. The Czech had impressive results in both Madrid and Rome in 2015 but this year, she only won two matches at both tournaments combined. As a result, she departed the top 10.
Kvitova had never been seeded lower than eighth at a Grand Slam since the 2011 French Open, that feat however came to end in Paris this year where she was the 10th seed. Looking to replicate her best result here where she made the last four in 2012, Kvitova was two points away from defeat in the first round against Danka Kovinic but experience and winning points in the key moments saw the odds turn to the Czech’s favour.
She was no-nonsense and routine in her second match against Hsieh Su-wei. She could not keep up this momentum however as she was bamboozled by 108th-ranked Shelby Rogers in her following match in three sets. More surprisingly, Kvitova failed to win a game in the two sets she lost.
Entering the grass court swing with a 13-12 record for the year so far and out of the top 10, it is the Czech’s worst record pre-grass season since her breakthrough in 2011.
|Year||Win-loss record pre-grass season|
However, she is enjoying and making the most of her preparations for her most favourite phase of every season and all looks well.
Destined for an amazing second-half of 2016?
Speaking of a dismal first half of a season, Kvitova is not alone at all. There was a player who was in the exact same position as the Czech in 2015 but completely turned her season around come grass. This player entered the grass season with a 15-13 record, out of the top 10, had only made one semifinal and one quarterfinal all year. Amazingly, she left the lawns with a 12-3 record and went on to finish the season with three titles (winning her biggest title at the WTA Finals), making another semifinal plus three other quarterfinals. She is none other Agnieszka Radwanska.
The Pole consolidated her amazing results on grass by winning twenty-four of her next thirty-three matches. Moreover, having entered the grass court swing as the world number 14, her spectacular aforementioned results in the second half of last year saw her soar into the top five once again year-end.
Both ladies are good friends on the tour and seem fond of each other. It will be a good omen for the Czech to draw inspiration from the what the Pole has gone through in 2015 and know that she can achieve the results she is worthy of once again if she does not give up and rises up to the challenge.
Radwanska said after claiming the biggest title of her career in Singapore last year “It’s an incredible day for me especially that few weeks ago I didn’t even know if I had any chance to be here. And there we go, in the final and I can just hold the trophy. So, I think it is the biggest day in my life.”
Kvitova has played fourteen tournaments on grass, the 2012 London Olympics inclusive. Boasting a spectacular 38-12 record on the surface, her best results other than her two Wimbledon titles were a runner-up showing and a quarterfinal appearance, both at the Aegon International in Eastbourne 2011 and 2014 respectively. Coincidentally, she won Wimbledon during those two seasons so watch out for the Czech if she wins matches in the warm-up events this year.
Unlike the five previous years, Kvitova has opted to play an extra lead-up tournament besides Eastbourne, the Aegon Classic in Birmingham. She is definitely looking to get as many matches under her belt as possible to avoid any rustiness that could have played a part in her early demise last year. The Czech will return to action in Birmingham next week and all eyes will be on her to see how she delivers on her most successful surface.
It is overall a wise decision to play an extra warm-up event. Assuming the Czech is fully fit and injury-free, prepared to make reparations and inject life into her 2016 season, her results will ultimately depend on what type of Kvitova shows up for matches.
With her go big or go bust game style, it will not be a surprise if she becomes unstoppable and turns her season around winning titles but at the same time, it will not be shocking either to see her crash out early of tournaments. Given the misery she had been through this year, coupled with a never-say-die attitude and back on her beloved grass, the odds look to be swinging towards the former.