Whisper it quietly…but at 32 Petra Kvitova looks to be heading to Wimbledon with her best chance of a real run and going deep into the draw since winning the title for a second time eight years ago.
The Czech Republic star remains one of the most popular and engaging players on the tour, and a real ambassador for the WTA of the type any organisation can never have too many of.
But one thing the past week at Eastbourne has shown, whatever happens in Saturday’s final at Devonshire Park, where she plays Jelena Ostapenko, is that the left-hander is as focused and in-form as for many years on her favourite surface of grass – that has brought her two famous triumphs in 2011 and 2014.
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Surprisingly Kvitova has not got past the fourth round at Wimbledon since last lifting the trophy, through some combination of injury notably to her arm, glandular fever that left her exhausted, and failing to bring her best form to her preferred slam event.
And there was also of course the physical and mental damage done by horrific attack at her home in the Czech Republic just before Christmas 2016 from a knife-wielding robber that saw her receive cuts to her dominant left hand in protecting herself, suffering tendon and nerve damage the effects of which persist to this day.
Kvitova got back into the world’s top five in 2018 after winning five WTA titles, having previously been as high as No2 following her 2011 Wimbledon win. But she began the week at Eastbourne ranked No31, and is seeded 25 at Wimbledon where she is in what looks the slightly tougher top half of the draw, and will open up against Italy’s Jasmine Paolini in the first round.
Kvitova at her grass-court best is a devastating force, and there was no better example of that than the way she blew Eugenie Bouchard off Centre Court to win her second Wimbledon title eight years ago. The Canadian lost 6-3, 6-0 and was arguably lucky to get three games.
And some of the excellent serving and thundering forehands at Eastbourne in recent days, giving opponents no peace by keeping all her ground strokes on or close to the baseline, have been reminiscent of those salad days.
To get to the semi-finals at Wimbledon this year Kvitova might have to beat Paula Badosa, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova, with Iga Swiatek likely to be waiting in the last four. But if that path pans out as seeded, they will be at least as worried about those matches as Kvitova would be.
After reaching the final at Eastbourne with an excellent 7-6, 6-4 win over the equally impressive and even more in-form Beatriz Haddad Maia, Kvitova - who had lost the Brazilian recently in Birmingham - admitted: “I think this is the best I have played for a long, long time, I have to say that – especially on the grass.
“I didn’t have many matches on the grass and earlier I was struggling, but to win matches and get to a final is amazing. I didn’t expect that.
“The motivation is easy – I love the sport and I love playing and being on the court. I wouldn’t say I am playing for trophies, I think that may be over. But I am playing for the feeling of playing well in front of a full crowd. I still put pressure on myself, because I want to win! I always want to play well.
“There was a big difference in my game today from the last time we played in Birmingham. That was my first match on the grass, and she had come there from winning in Nottingham and was on fire. She was on fire again today, but I played much better. The matches I played here earlier in the week, and they gave me lots of confidence. I served much better.
“It can be tough to play lefties, and now I know how it feels! I have to use my serve more to win these games. On the returns sometimes I was just guessing, but when you are in the match and in the zone, you just play. Sometimes it’s there, sometimes it isn’t. There was only one break in the whole semi-final, and the first-set tiebreak was key.
“I had it in my mind that the only other time I got to the final in Eastbourne in 2011 I went to Wimbledon and won just two weeks later. That was a different story and a different time, but who knows. It is just good to have matches under my belt.”
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