2016 was a year featuring two polar halves for double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova. Having begun the year as world number six, she struggled to pick up steam as gastrointestinal illness hampered her start to the year.
As the months passed, she eventually fell to as low as 16th in the rankings and looked set for a free fall but found her best tennis in the nick of time, gaining substantive momentum as the season began to wind down to finish the year as world number 11. The Czech now has an Olympic bronze medal (her first ever Olympic medal) and another two titles to account for her 2016 season.
Kvitova’s first six months of 2016 up till the end of the Wimbledon Championships saw her produce a lousy 16-15 record, going 2-6 in the months of January and February. After Wimbledon, it was the complete opposite for the Czech as she went on to win 30 of 38 matches to end the year with a 46-23 record. She enacted five top 10 wins, the same amount as last year, four coming over top five opposition.
Despite it being her worst record statistically since her 2011 breakout, it is the first time since 2013 where Kvitova scored more than 45 wins per season (she collected 51 wins in 2013). Other seasons that have seen the Czech fare the same or better are 2011 (60 wins, overall most number of wins per season since turning professional) and 2012 (46 wins).
With regards to losses, her 2016 campaign ties 2013 for most number of losses per season for the Czech since 2011, coming out second best in matches 23 times in both years. Since turning professional ten years ago, the most number of losses per season for the Czech came in 2010 where she lost 24 times.
From January till late July, Kvitova only one had one quarterfinal and one semifinal appearance to boast, achieving those results in Indian Wells and Stuttgart respectively. When she made the last eight in Indian Wells, it was the first time in six months where she had won consecutive matches, having not been able to do so since the US Open in the fall of 2015 where she made the quarterfinals.
After the conclusion of Wimbledon, Kvitova won her maiden Olympic medal at the Rio Olympics where took out Madison Keys in a tough encounter for the bronze medal. With the achievement, she became the first Czech player of either gender to win an Olympic medal in the singles discipline since Jana Novotna at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 where she took home the bronze too.
Her Olympic accomplishment looked to have injected newfound confidence in Kvitova as she made the semifinals of New Haven soon after. She then reached the last 16 at the US Open (her best Grand Slam result of the year) where she succumbed to eventual champion Angelique Kerber.
As the tour transitioned to Asia, the Czech backed up her resurgence by winning the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open for the second time and then making the quarterfinals of the China Open a week later. Along the way to the Wuhan title, she beat Kerber in a last 16 blockbuster for her fourth career win over a world number one, having last done so in Madrid last year where she beat Serena Williams in the semifinals en route to winning the title. The match against Kerber in Wuhan, which took 3 hours and 19 minutes to complete, marked the longest match of Kvitova’s career.
A runner-up finish to Monica Niculescu in Luxembourg ensued later in the month before Kvitova returned to China for her debut appearance at the secondary-tier year-ending championship, the WTA Elite Trophy in Zhuhai. There, the Czech was on unstoppable mode as she sailed to her 19th career title, without the loss of a single set all week. Having won the WTA Finals on debut in 2011, Kvitova becomes the first player to win both categories of year-end championships on her first appearance.
Kvitova was part of the Czech team for the Fed Cup final which was hosted by France. Despite succumbing to Caroline Garcia in her sole singles rubber, the Czechs nevertheless went on to successfully defend their title for the second year running to win its fifth Fed Cup trophy as an independent nation, also its fifth in the last six years. This achievement also puts Kvitova as the sole Czech player to win the most number of Fed Cup titles, having been part of the team which took home the five aforementioned trophies.
There were lull phases in Kvitova’s 2016 campaign, a typical feature of a Kvitova season, but this time with most of them coming in the first half of the year. The first one came in her opening match in Shenzhen as the aforementioned gastrointestinal illness forced her to retire midway in her opener against Zheng Saisai. Thus, an early exit at the Australian Open in the second round did not come as a surprise. Kvitova has yet to reach the last 16 in Melbourne since recording her best result at the tournament in 2012 where she was a semifinalist.
After dropping both her singles matches in the Fed Cup opening round tie against Romania (something that has never happened before in her career), Kvitova went on to win just one match through Dubai and Doha. After her semifinal finish in Stuttgart, the Czech looked to have finally settled in but suffered yet another hiccup as she failed to defend her title in Madrid before losing her opening match in Rome. She exited the top 10 for the first since September 2013 as a result. This was then followed by an upset at the French Open in the hands of Shelby Rogers in the third round.
Switching to grass, Kvitova’s favourite surface, her circumstances did not improve either as she failed to win back-to-back matches in all her three tournaments on the surface, making it her worst grasscourt campaign since 2009. A loss to Ekaterina Makarova in the second round of Wimbledon makes it the earliest exit at her most successful Grand Slam since 2009.
Kvitova’s silverware resume for 2016 include two titles in Wuhan and Zhuhai along with the Olympic bronze medal and the Fed Cup crown. She also recorded a runner-up finish in Luxembourg, three semifinals (Stuttgart, Olympics and New Haven) and two quarterfinal appearances (Indian Wells and Beijing).
Kvitova left three tournaments winless (Shenzhen, Dubai and Rome). She also won just one match in six tournament appearances (Australian Open, Doha, Miami, Birmingham, Eastbourne and Wimbledon).
For the talent Kvitova possesses, she should have been ranked number one and won many more Grand Slams by now but she continues to be a mystery on the tour, blowing hot and cold with streaks of inconsistency on a weekly basis although the latter half of the year saw the Kvitova consistency sustained at its best. With the high-rewarding yet high-risk game she owns, it will continue to be a norm to see the Czech win a couple of titles every year yet crash out early in some tournaments.
Martina Navratilova described Kvitova’s season as ‘lousy’ after the Czech’s disappointing exit at Wimbledon given her results throughout the first half of the year up till that point. Kvitova however avoided a season of failure by rediscovering her game, ultimately saving her 2016 campaign from a state of turmoil. Her strong results in the second half of the year no doubt mitigates the dreadful results she suffered before that, thus translating her season grade from a possible F/G to a C.
Kvitova enters 2017 high on confidence and will look to carry on where she left off after a commendable finish to 2016. She mentioned that being number one is still a goal and it will be intriguing to see how the two-time Grand Slam champion works towards that objective in 2017 as she eyes for more success in what is already a colourful career for the Czech. Will she be able to finally generate consistency on a weekly basis, win more Grand Slams and ultimate reach the number one ranking?