Czech Sweat Heart - Kvitova


Ever since bursting onto the scene at the Wimbledon Championships 2011, Petra Kvitova has been the darling of the tennis world. Taking down Maria Sharapova in the final, Kvitova wields a swinging lefty serve, and her ferocious ground game, monstrous groundstrokes and excellent timing to simply blow opponents off the court are in stark constrast to her shy and soft-spoken personality.
"When she's on fire, it's so, so tough," says fellow pro Andrea Petkovic."I have a lot of respect for her, not only as a player but also as a personality. She's such a nice girl and stayed so normal after all her success."
Kvitova's popularity in part arises from her humble beginnings. Her story isn't one of a privileged kid growing up in a country club setting who dreamed of becoming the next great tennis star. Instead, her story started in the tiny Czech town of Fulnek, near the Polish border."In Fulnek there is nothing there. We have four tennis courts, a castle and a sports centre," says Kvitova.
Kvitova grew up playing tennis with her two older brothers, learning from her school teacher father who taught himself how to play tennis."I practised with my father until I was 16 in Fulnek. Sometimes it was tough. I couldn't go out with my friends because I had to practise. He knew what young kids do... my friends were just walking through the streets, maybe smoking a cigarette. He was a teacher, and so he was maybe afraid about this."
She says her early years playing tennis were just for fun, something to do outside of school."Until I was 16 I only played for an hour or an hour and a half after school. I didn't think that I could be a tennis player," she remembers. Because of her family's modest financial situation, making a career out of tennis seemed like a dream."It was hard because my family did not have much money," she says."We didn't have a car so [my brothers] had to travel by train [to tournaments]?and it wasn't really possible for them to think of a nice future in tennis." Kvitova herself also was never able to travel outside the Czech Republic to play tennis tournaments in her younger years.
Things changed when she moved to a tennis academy in the larger city Prostejov."When I moved to Prostejov when I was 16, 17, the big champs of the Czech Republic were there: [Tomas] Berdych, [Lucie] Safarova," she recalls."It was really strange for me to see them and be with them in the same club.And that was, I think, it was like the first moment that I was like: ‘O.K., I'll play tennis. Maybe it will be good.'"
To say her career has been"good" is quite the understatement. At 27, she already won 20 titles including two Wimbledon Championships. When she's on and hitting her spots, there's practically no one who can stay with her raw power.
The tennis world began taking notice of Kvitova when she took out then-world number 1 Dinara Safina at the 2009 US Open, followed by a semi-final appearance at Wimbledon the following year. Expectations were met in a big way with Kvitova's breakthrough season in 2011 where she was consistently brilliant from start to finish, taking one of the first tournaments of the year in Brisbane and also its last, the WTA Finals, finishing the year just 115 points behind Caroline Wozniacki for the top ranking. Along the way, she collected titles in Paris (indoors), Madrid (clay), Linz (indoors), Fed Cup and of course, her maiden Grand Slam at Wimbledon, defeating Victoria Azarenka in the semi-final and Maria Sharapova in the final. For her efforts, she was named WTA Player of the Year and WTA Most Improved Player of the Year.
Towards the end of the year, she revisited Wimbledon with her childhood idol and fellow Czech lefty, Martina Navratilova."It was very special, just me and Martina," she recalls."As we walk around we speak in Czech. She told me very nice stories about her experience ?and she had a lot because she won nine [singles] titles there. She was my idol when I was growing up. I loved her because she was also a leftie. Not many leftie women have won Wimbledon. So we walked around Wimbledon and it was empty. It was strange no one was there and no nets were on the courts. But on the board was my score against Sharapova. Then Martina led me to the honours board. I looked up. My name is there once. Martina's name is there nine times."
Kvitova's name has since been added to the trophy one more time in 2014, when she defeated Venus Williams in one of the best women's matches of the decade on the way to crushing Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-0 in the final.
Along the way, Kvitova's career has been hampered by various injuries ranging from asthma to glandular fever to abdominal strains. However, her most devastating injury came at the end of last year when a knife-wielding robber entered her apartment and cut her deeply on her playing hand resulting in tendon and nerve injuries. Soon after a four-hour operation, Kvitova posted on her Facebook page:"I am shaken, but fortunate to be alive. The injury is severe and I will need to see specialists, but if you know anything about me I am strong and I will fight this."
Just five months later, Kvitova was true to her words, returning at the French Open where she lost in the second round. However, back on her most successful surface, grass, she took the title in Birmingham in just her second tournament back.
Now on the cusp of returning to the Top 10, can the Tianjin Open's top seed put her troubles behind her and regain her top form? If history is any indication, China may very well be the place she does it. Twice winner of the Wuhan Open, champion at last year's WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhaiand runner-up at the 2014 China Open, Kvitova says of her Tianjin chances:"I have never been to Tianjin before and I can't wait to visit there and play in front of all my fans and to explore the city as well. I have had great success in Wuhan and Zhuhai so it would be great to also win my first Tianjin Open."