Former world number two Petra Kvitova looked to have finally found her footing in the latter stages of 2016 after a horrendous start to the year. The two-time Wimbledon champion finished the season with two titles and an Olympic medal.
Kvitova was poised to carry her strong momentum into 2017. However, tragedy struck when she was robbed at her home in the Czech Republic a few days before Christmas, suffering lacerations to her left hand, her playing hand, while trying to defend herself.
Initially expected to be out of action for six months, Kvitova’s recovery progressed better than expected and come May, the Czech was back competing, at the French Open, much to the delight of the tennis world.
2016 in a nutshell
Current world number 16 Petra Kvitova ended her 2016 campaign in stunning fashion after a dismal first half of the year which saw her season record stand at a lousy 16-15 after the conclusion of Wimbledon, having reached just one semifinal and one quarterfinal during that period.
Post Wimbledon, she bounced back by taking home the bronze medal at the Rio Olympics before going on to win her only two titles of the year, in Wuhan and Zhuhai, also winning 30 out of 38 matches in the process, almost double the amount of wins she collected in the first half of the year.
Having started 2016 ranked sixth, Kvitova plunged to as low as 16th in the middle of the year but her strong finish saw her end the year ranked 11th. Despite that being her first non-top 10 finish since her 2011 breakthrough, the double Wimbledon champion has set herself well for the upcoming 2017 season.
Kvitova concluded the year by representing the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup final against France. Despite dropping her only match, to Caroline Garcia, the Czech team went on to take home the title by securing the win in the decisive doubles rubber, their fifth in the last six years. Having been part of the team which won those five titles, Kvitova claimed the record as the only Czech player who has won most Fed Cup titles.
During the match against Garcia, Kvitova picked up a foot injury and spent the off-season nursing it in time for the Hopman Cup, her then-scheduled opening event of 2017. She was unable to recover in time and five days before Christmas, announced her withdrawal from the exhibition event and was later replaced by good friend, Lucie Hradecka.
Later that same day, things took a turn for the worse when Kvitova was robbed at her home in Prostejov, Czech Republic. The intruder had gained entry into her apartment by impersonating a maintenance worker. Acting in self-defence, Kvitova suffered multiple lacerations to her left hand which immediately required four hours of surgery to repair two tendons of the hand as well two nerves, which was successful.
After the surgery, Katie Spellman, PR manager of Kvitova, stated that the Czech would have to wear cast on her left hand for six to eight weeks and was unable to bear any weight for three months, and on her return to the court, the best case scenario would be after six months. This means that she will miss the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the season.
Radek Kebrle, the surgeon who operated on Kvitova, also noted that the surgery went ‘very well, with no complications’ and she could be back on the court within six months at least.
Road to recovery
Three days after the surgery, two days before Christmas, Kvitova revealed in her first press conference since the attack that she could move her left hand once again, good news she called ‘the best Christmas gift she could have wished for’. The Czech lefty vowed not to see herself as a victim neither does she feel sorry for herself and will not look backwards.
She also said “I have no choice but to look ahead, and not back, to see how everything will develop. It does not really matter how long it will take to play again, whether it is three months, six months, a year or however long. Certainly I want to return one day and I will do everything possible to do so.”
Then, three days after New Year’s Day, Kvitova’s spokesman, Karel Tejkal, revealed that the former world number two’s recovery is ‘going according plans and expectations’ and that she had begun doing exercises with her injured fingers. Moreover, her local tennis club has offered a reward of $3850 for any information leading to her attacker, a male suspected to be in his mid-thirties, who is still at large.
A fortnight later, the Bilovec-born Kvitova posted on social media that all stitches on her hand have been removed. Later that month, Czech police, in an update briefing on the investigation, revealed that Kvitova was slashed as part of a blackmail plot, classifying the attack as an attempted blackmail.
The following month, the Czech Fed Cup team, who were the then-defending champions, sailed into the semifinals after seeing off Spain in their opening encounter. They then dedicated the victory to Kvitova, their Fed Cup stalwart. Barbora Strycova, part of the team that emerged victorious over Spain, said of Kvitova “Of course we are thinking about her everyday and we were talking to her. Of course this was for her. We hope she comes back and we will welcome her with open arms.”
In March, Kvitova turned 27 and celebrated her birthday on the Canary Islands in Spain, where she also underwent fitness training. That same month, the Czech once again took to social media to update fans on her recovery, she wrote “I still can’t tell you when I will be back, but I can tell you that tennis is a huge motivation for me. My perspective on life has changed a lot and I am doing everything to give myself a second chance to be back on the court.”
Furthermore, Tejkal stated that Kvitova’s recovery is continuing as planned but ‘everything is up in the air’ as to her return. He then added that she can now use her left hand for daily activities without much complications and her psychological recovery has been encouraging. Ultimately, no one can determined a concrete date as to her return to competition.
The following month, things started to take an even more positive turn when Kvitova announced that she could return at the French Open, telling fans on social media that her name will appear on the entry list for the second Grand Slam of the year and, since she has made good progress in her recovery, she wants to give herself ‘every last opportunity’ to compete at the tournament.
She also added, however, that she will not necessarily play the tournament but will do everything possible to give herself that opportunity and is maintaining a positive mindset. Then, in early May, it was revealed that the double Wimbledon winner has made her return to the practice courts.
A week before the commencement of the French Open, Kvitova confirmed her participation at the Wimbledon Championships, which will begin in the end of June. However, a last-minute decision will be made as to whether she will play in Paris. On 26 May, Kvitova made the final decision that she will compete at the tournament.
While announcing her decision to play in Paris, Kvitova said that she has won her ‘biggest fight’ and is happy to be competing once again and her dreams come true. She added that her hand is still not 100% ready but will see how everything goes and most importantly, she is happy that she is able to play again.
“It was a last minute decision, I have to start somewhere. Not many people believe I can play tennis again. So I am happy that I can play. I actually already won my biggest fight. I am happy that I like challenges, this was the biggest one, of course." said Kvitova.
"So I stayed in life and I have all my fingers, and I can be here and be in the draw. Of course the hand does not have that power and strength yet, but I am working on it. Hopefully one day everything will be perfect but we never know still.” she added.
On dealing with the aftermath of the incident, the 27-year-old stated “I did not sleep well the days after, but I was not really staying alone. I don’t really have nightmares. From the beginning I was feeling really weird when I went into the city or somewhere. But with time, it’s better. Of course, I am more actively watching the people around me.”
Return to tennis
Kvitova took to Court Philippe Chatrier Sunday, 28th May, for the first match of her comeback. Seeded 15th at the tournament, it marked the second year in row Kvitova opened the tournament on its main stadium, having defeated Montenegrin Danka Kovinic in three sets in the opening round here Sunday last year. This time around, the 2012 semifinalist kicked off against American Julia Boserup. There were many uncertainties as to how the Czech will deal the situation, with the match being her first since November last year.
However, Kvitova put those doubts to not as she started the match commendably, racing out to a 3-0 lead against Boserup. She went on to seal the opening set 6-3. Boserup did her best to stay with Kvitova and keep the match as close as possible but the Czech was too good in the end, producing a 6-3, 6-2 win under 75 minutes to see off the American. Even more applausive, Kvitova hit nine aces and 31 winners, and was successful in 29 of 37 first serve points and only lost one point at the net.
“This match was special to me, I won for the second time, if I can say that," she said. "It was a nice and really heartwarming welcome,” Kvitova said of her win after the match.
"My team was there. My family was there. Everyone who helped me through the difficult time. So it was a real pleasure to play in front of them and play how I played. I think I played well after six months off. I'm happy with the game, of course, but I mean, it wasn't really about the game today,” she added.
Kvitova’s team, including her parents and siblings, were all in her player box to witness the Czech’s heroic return to the game and were sporting similar customised t-shirts with the words “Courage. Belief. Pojd” written on it.
The Czech explained “We were thinking, 'how can we do something special?’. The courage and belief, that's what I probably had to have in this kind of situation. The belief and the mind, the heart, it's really important. So that's what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.” ‘Pojd’ is Czech for ‘come on’.
Advancing into the second round, Kvitova faced Boserup’s compatriot, the veteran and top-ranked doubles player Bethanie Mattek-Sands. Once again, Kvitova looked much in control in the early stages of the match, racing out to a 4-2 lead and also had chances to make it 5-2, an opportunity to serve out the set.
The American however had other plans, and found her mojo in the nick of time, denying Kvitova that opportunity before going on to break the Czech’s serve to level the match at 4-4. The set soon went to tiebreaker, with Kvitova racing out to a 4-1 lead before Mattek-Sands came back roaring once more to seal it 7-6(5).
The second set saw Mattek-Sands begin with a run of three straight games before Kvitova mounted a comeback of her own to lead the American 4-3. Mattek-Sands continued to frustrate the Czech in all wings as she looked determined to prevent the match from going to a decider.
Another tiebreak was needed and it had the same storyline as the first, this time with Kvitova off to a 4-2 lead but the American emerged victorious in the end as a double fault from the Czech, her ninth of the match, saw her safely through to the third round. The loss was the first of Kvitova’s career in the second round stage of Paris.
After the match, Kvitova reflected on her loss “I have to say that I am kind of surprised how I played, even though I lost. I think it was a good fight, and I think the tiebreak showed that I don’t really have matches under my belt.”
The match lasted over two hours and the Czech hit 4 aces and 34 winners, three more than her previous match, but 25 unforced errors and 9 double faults proved costly for her in the end. Moreover, her second serve let her down as Mattek-Sands took advantage of it, the American dropping just six second serve return points.
Kvitova went on to say “My father did not like that I throw my racket. I still do have the motivation inside, which is good. And throwing the racket shows that I am a bit angry, as well. I am disappointed, for sure."
"I came here to win the matches. But after the match, I did not feel that bad as normally as I probably do. Now, in the upcoming weeks, I think it will be business as usual. That’s what I am looking forward to, just focusing on tennis," she added.
“I saw Petra before the tournament started. I gave her a big hug,” Mattek-Sands said. “I was really happy to see her back, especially after everything that had happened. You know, she’s an inspiration. That’s what I told her end of the match, too. She not only came back from all of that, she came back playing well." she spoke of Kvitova's comeback.
“We had a great match today. It’s really good to see her back and playing well. She’s a great champion, so it’s a really good win for me,” she added.
On to grass
With the comeback tournament now history, Kvitova sets her sights on her most favourite part of the year, the grass court season. The past two years, however, have seen the Czech struggle on the surface. Her Wimbledon title defence in 2015 ended prematurely, in the third round, to Jelena Jankovic. Last year, she failed to win consecutive matches in her three tournaments on the surface, including Wimbledon, where she exited in the second round to Ekaterina Makarova.
Speaking to local media last week, former Czech player Jiri Vanek, who has been Kvitova’s coach since December last year, said that she will play smaller tournaments before Wimbledon.
“We will probably start in Birmingham where we are to leave in a fortnight. Paris was a starting point, we did not know what to expect from it. We are glad that Petra managed it. As from Monday, everyday work starts and we will focus on her tennis,” added Vanek.
With newfound motivation and a determination to do well once again, it will be interesting to see how comeback kid Kvitova fares on her favourite surface. With just one tournament and two matches under her belt for 2017, it means that she is still a little undercooked. However, with the enigma that is Kvitova, it will not be surprise to see her go all out firing and ultimately, lifting her third Grand Slam title on the lawns of Wimbledon.