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Home   News   Tebbutt: Peerless perplexing Petra

Tebbutt: Peerless perplexing Petra

Oct 04, 2016
written by: Tom Tebbutt

Petra Kvitova is the best player in women’s tennis – on her day.

But those days are few and far between and that’s why she started last week’s WTA Premier 5 event in Wuhan, China, ranked No. 16 in the world.

Many would argue that Serena Williams is the supreme player in the world on any day and that’s hard to dispute. But Williams turned 35 last week and has been increasingly injury-prone so it’s at least arguable that Kvitova, in full flight, can beat any opponent.

She showed that last week in winning the Dongfeng Motor Open in Wuhan (home of retired Chinese superstar Li Na) with a merciless 6-1, 6-1 victory over Dominika Cibulkova in the final. In that match Kvitova won 17 of the first 18 points and, in today’s parlance, completely “took the racquet out of her opponent’s hand.” The 6-foot lefthander hits so big that when she’s on her game, as she was last week, it’s one-way traffic. Her serve is devastating and she can laser forehands so hard, low and well-angled that the person on the other side becomes increasingly helpless and shell-shocked.

Her power puts her at the top of the heap of today’s biggest hitters, slightly ahead of emerging players like Karolina Pliskova, Madison Keys, Garbiñe Muguruza and maybe even the mighty Williams. The three up-and-comers have had their moments – particularly Muguruza in winning this year’s French Open – but none have done it over time as has Kvitova, albeit erratically, since her breakthrough triumph at Wimbledon in 2011.

The inconsistent play has essentially been ‘Petra being Petra.’ Since reaching the semifinals of the 2012 French Open, she has played 18 Grand Slams and only once – winning Wimbledon in 2014 by a 6-3, 6-0 score over Genie Bouchard – has she reached the final four at a Grand Slam.

With her superior skill-set that’s almost unimaginable. There are explanations for Kvitova’s failure to live up to the expectations raised after those Wimbledon titles in 2011 and 2014, including the fact that she has asthma. It’s hard to know exactly how much it affects her breathing and endurance during matches but it’s no surprise that her greatest success has been at Wimbledon where the weather conditions are the most benign of the four Grand Slams – spared the extremes of heat and humidity that can be found at the Australian, French and US Opens.

In the spring of 2015, she took a six-week break from tennis because of exhaustion, missing the big events in Indian Wells and Miami. Then, a few months later after Wimbledon (a third-round loss to Jelena Jankovic), she discovered she had mononucleosis that made things more complicated for her until near the end of last year.

It’s no accident that Kvitova’s most consistent results have indeed come at Wimbledon. Here are her finishes there from 2010 to 2014 – SF, W, QF, QF, W. That translates to an impressive 27-3 record over those five years. Her only losses were to Williams in 2010 and 2012 and to Kirsten Flipkens in 2013.

Last week in Wuhan her toughest test was a dramatic 6-7(10), 7-5, 6-4 victory over newly-minted world No. 1 Angelique Kerber in the 28-year-old German’s second match following her victory at the US Open. It was a real thriller, lasting three hours and 19 minutes and Kvitova showed commendable perseverance after dropping a first set in which she had four set points. It was the longest match of her career and many of the rallies were stunning, in particular one that lasted 41 strokes and which got the spectators into such a frenzy that they couldn’t contain their excitement toward the end of the point.

Check it out HERE:

Aside from the marathon with Kerber, Kvitova pretty well destroyed the field. Here are the other rounds:

  • 1R: def. No. 46 Jelena Ostapenko 6-3, 6-1
  • 2R: def. No. 18 Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-1
  • QF: def. No. 13 Johanna Konta 6-3, 6-4
  • SF: def. No. 5 Simona Halep 6-1, 6-2
  • F: def. No. 12 Dominika Cibulkova 6-1, 6-1

In conversation on wtatennis.com after the final, Kvitova explained: “I think I played great six matches in six days, which is unreal for me to just think about. I’m really proud of myself how I did it, how I handled it physically. Especially the match against Angie (Kerber) was really difficult. The next days, I mean, playing Konta or Halep, they are really great players…Domi (Cibulkova) today. I was able to play and not have that many unforced errors.

“I need this kind of consistency all year, which to be honest, I don’t think I can really do that. I’m probably the player who has ups and downs. Of course, I’m going to try to be better in the downs. But I don’t really think that I can be consistent all season. I’m just how I am probably, and I can’t really change it.”

She’s basically conceding that, while there will be moments of brilliance, there will also be results like losing 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to little-known world No. 88 Luksika Kumkum of Thailand in the first round of the 2014 Australian Open and 6-0, 6-7(3), 6-0 to No. 108 Shelby Rogers of the U.S. in the third round at Roland Garros this year.

Photo: Arturo Velasquez / Tennis Canada

Photo: Arturo Velasquez / Tennis Canada

Fundamentally a shy person, the well-liked and respected Kvitova doesn’t have the insatiable competitive drive of a Williams, a Maria Sharapova or a Victoria Azarenka. That’s just who she is.

After splitting with long-time coach David Kotyza after this year’s Australian Open and interim coach Frantisek Cermak after the US Open, she’s currently flying solo. She had a trial with experienced Belgian coach Wim Fissette (Kim Clijsters, Sabine Lisicki, Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka) during the Tokyo WTA tournament last month but that didn’t lead to a longer commitment.

At 26, she has a more mature and well-rounded understanding of herself and her profession. “I think I always knew that I’m kind of the power player on the tour,” she said after winning in Wuhan. “But it’s always tough for me to find the balance between the power and really missing some easy shots. It’s always kind of tricky.

“Of course, when I do have a confidence, it looks like today or yesterday (Halep and Cibulkova). But sometimes it just looks really, really, really bad.

“I will be probably always be like that. My game, it has a lot of risk. But for sure this week I just felt that if I’m really going for it, I’m just really having the power there, it’s just really impossible for the girls to return the shots. I did feel physically ready, as well.

“So I think the timing was great, and of course I think when the roof is closed, it’s my thing, too. So thank you weather.”

The latter remark, said while laughing, is in part a reference to her asthma. In a climate controlled indoor environment such as the one at the Wuhan Optical Valley Tennis Centre, she will always be more comfortable and confident than outdoors with the vagaries of humidity and heat.

kvitova-mtl

Kvitova has won two Wimbledons (2011 and 2014), one WTA year-end championship (2011), has a 26-9 record in Fed Cup and has helped Czech Republic win the women’s team event title in four of the past five years. She will try for a fifth the weekend of November 12-13 when the Czechs play the 2016 final again in Strasbourg, France, indoors.

She also earned a bronze medal at the Rio Olympics, defeating Madison Keys 7-5, 2-6, 6-2 after losing to Monica Puig in the semifinals.

On Tuesday in Beijing, she won her opening round (after a bye) at the China Open, defeating No. 143-ranked Wang Yafan of China 6-4, 6-1 and on Wednesday will face No. 2 seed and defending champion Muguruza.  

Looking into the future, the sport would be better if Kvitova could play more of the utterly dominant tennis she did last week in Wuhan. But hitting the ball that aggressively without making unforced errors is the most difficult thing to do in the game – and its ultimate challenge.

The fact that she can do it, even some of the time, shows what a rare talent she possesses. She’s similar to the retired Lindsay Davenport. The now 40-year-old American may have been the cleanest ball striker in the history of the sport, women or men. Kvitova moves better than Davenport did but is not quite as powerful, pure and efficient a hitter as the 6-foot-3 Californian.

Davenport reached No. 1 in the rankings – Kvitova made it to No. 2 in October, 2011 – and won three Grand Slam titles, one each at Wimbledon and the Australian and US Opens.

For the reasons mentioned above, often revealed in her own words, it remains to be seen if the currently No. 11-ranked Kvitova can have enough inspired moments to eventually surpass Davenport’s achievements. Whatever happens, it doubtless will continue to be frustrating and fascinating to follow the sometimes peerless and often perplexing Petra.

Maria ‘Back in 15’

maria-wimbledon

There was a general consensus that Maria Sharapova would have her two-year drug suspension reduced. But no one believed it would be for less than a year, which would have allowed her to play the 2017 Australian Open. So it wasn’t a surprise Tuesday when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that she can return after 15 months, which turns out to be on April 26, 2017, exactly a week after her 30th birthday. That’s also four weeks before the French Open and in time for WTA International level events in Prague or Morocco and then the Premier Mandatory tournament in Madrid.

It appears CAS’ decision will be generally accepted, partly because it puts some blame on the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for not better informing its athletes about the addition of Meldonium to the banned substances list as of January 1, 2016.

This was part of the CAS explanation for its ruling: “It is important to note that Meldonium is taken by millions of people throughout Eastern Europe. It is taken there the way aspirin is taken in the United States. In Russia, it is one of the most widely used pharmaceutical products and, in an effort to make it widely available to even more people, it is listed on the national Vital and Essential Drugs List, along with ibuprofen.”

A sense that CAS’ ruling will not be too controversial comes from something Andy Murray, a hardliner on drugs, said Tuesday shortly before it was released. “Some of the athletes (testing positive for Meldonium) had been let off. You could understand if it (the suspension) was reduced. But yeah, it’s a difficult one because I think there’s been some mistakes from WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) on this one.”

The less forgiving viewpoint came from Australian Richard Ings, an authority on the subject and a former head of the ATP’s anti-doping program:

Below is his tweet.

In Sharapova’s statement, she said, “I’ve learned from this and I hope the ITF has as well. I’m coming back soon and I can’t wait.”

Milos back on track

Pictured above in Beijing with top seed Andy Murray and second seed Rafael Nadal, Milos Raonic is seeded third at this week’s China Open, an ATP 500 event.

On Tuesday, he got his first win since beating Dustin Brown in the first round of the US Open on August 29th – 36 days – with a 6-4, 7-6(1) victory over No. 60-ranked German veteran (32) Florian Mayer.

Raonic started in the opening game with back-to-back aces – 138 mph and 141 mph – on his way to serving 23 in total and dominating until he served for the match at 5-3 in the second set. On the last point of the previous game, trailing 40-15, he tried a tweener when a conventional lob was possible and hit it into the net. It was a bit casual and he seemed to carry that over into the next game when he served consecutive double faults after taking a 15-love lead. Two unforced forehand errors in the next three points and Mayer was back on serve.

It was a shaky moment for Raonic, who had similarly dominated early against Mikhail Youzhny two weeks ago in St. Petersburg before losing in three sets, but he steadied and completely took over the second-set tiebreak – overpowering Mayer.

Next (on Thursday) it will be a first-ever meeting with either No. 50-ranked Malek Jaziri of Tunisia or No. 57 Guido Pella of Argentina.

From the vault

laurendeau-guitarDuring the 1988 Sun Life Nationals (the now-defunct Canadians-only championships held in Mississauga, Ont.), there was an awards evening and player party. As can be seen above, current Davis Cup captain Martin Laurendeau got fully into the swing of things. That’s former player Geoff Roper of Montreal on the left. In 1988, Laurendeau finished as runner-up at the Nationals to champion Andrew Sznajder.