Petra Kvitová: When will she rise in 2012?
She likes to tread dangerously on the thin line between life and death on a tennis court. She can fleet between the flawless and the flawed so effortlessly, she is a player in whose game the superlative and the mundane cohabit simultaneously. From wrecking her opponent’s game and morale she can leave you befuddled by suddenly wrecking her own game and taking on the role of a struggler and eventually fading out.
Welcome to Petra Kvitova’s world – tennis’s very own version of ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’. If she has a Wimbledon title to boast of, she has an ugly first round loss to lament of in the very next Slam – the US Open. If she played like a champion in the 2011 Wimbledon final outgunning and outshining Maria Sharapova, she let Sharapova dictate her error ridden desperate play in their very next match at the 2012 Australian Open semis. If Petra Kvitova had stupefied the world with her brilliant shot-making full of variety at the tender young age of 21, tennis aficionados are still searching for that one all-important stroke in the armour – consistency.
With her lefty serve, the fierce flat groundstrokes and the slice Kvitova was always thought to be one of the front-runners for establishing the young blood on the Tour and in the Slams. Within two years of turning professional, the Bilovec born Czech national was storming up the rankings and found herself in the top 50 by 2008 end. With a title in 2009 and a Wimbledon semifinal in 2010 she caught everybody’s eyes until her superb breakthrough year began in 2011.
Last year she was the only player to capture a title in each of the three surfaces – clay, grass and hard. With her six titles she simply established herself as a natural contender and underlined that the vastly-criticized young generation can compete with the champions even in Majors.
But what was striking is not the fact that she was on a title-winning spree but the manner in which her year went. For every huge burst of brilliance, Petra Kvitova has an uncanny ability to disappear into a lull. Consider her post Wimbledon glory – Kvitova was not the same player when she returned to the US Open hardcourts last summer. Two dismal losses to Andrea Petkovic followed – Petkovic was the same player whom Kvitova thrashed for the Brisbane title earlier in the year. And it went further downhill at Flushing Meadows as she became the first Grand Slam champion to be defeated in the opening round of the very next Slam without winning a single set.
Petra ultimately managed to regroup herself towards the very end of the season adding the Linz title and the esteemed WTA Championships and also helping Czech Republic win the first Fed Cup as an independent nation.
With Caroline Wozniacki’s No. 1 ranking tottering, Petra’s glorious end to her dream year naturally veered the talk about her being the next No. 1 and becoming the Australian Open champion.
Kvitova began 2012 where she had left by teaming up with compatriot Tomas Berdych in clinching the Hopman Cup for her country. Thus much weight was added to everybody’s expectations about her climbing to the summit.
Interestingly, the version of the soft-spoken Czech that we got to see at the Australian Open semi against Maria Sharapova was not the one fans had anticipated. Petra looked casually erroneous, downrightly mundane and far from her champion stuff. It was she who was lunging for the 2008 champion’s ferocious shots rather than the other way round. Petra was back to living life dangerously bewildering her fans and the tons of tennis experts who had envisaged her to be on top of the world.
Gone was the ranking, gone was the Slam title! In contrast, Victoria Azarenka swept the tennis courts shutting everybody up. After the Fed Cup, an unfortunate injury and illness kept her out of action for the entire Middle Eastern hardcourt swing but the World No. 3 Czech was expected to be back with a bang on the North American hardcourts.
But what was stunning was the way she vanished into the oblivion in the third round at Indian Wells. Pitted against a young talented American Christina McHale, Petra was the obvious favourite with a Slam title and experience to boot. After the first set, the lanky Czech seemed to be headed for a routine victory when she let it all slip. A few horrendous errors were all it took the American to cause the biggest upset of the tournament in the first week – Petra was back to her flawed and banal phase!
And the very next fortnight in Miami was no better. Facing a gargantuan task of putting an end to three-time champion, Venus William’s inspired run, she played a roller-coaster in the first two sets and totally got blanked in the third submitting herself completely to Venus.
What is this flawed phase in her game that is becoming so characteristic of her after every high success? Is she simply succumbing to the immense pressure and expectations after hitting the high? Or is she now struggling to get rid of the hangover of her incredible year? Or is her insipid phase simply a side-effect of her risky, no-holds barred game?
For now, Kvitova’s hard-court campaign ends with the Miami loss. The Tour will be heading to the tricky clay-courts next where her game might not find its suitable range except on the fast-paced high-altitude clay courts of Madrid where she is the defending champion.
Kvitova is a pure joy to watch when her shots are flying off the court touching and kissing the lines and so pedestrian when they don’t. In between she hardly treads! And probably that is the reason why her consistency and sustenance will always be shrouded in doubt.
2012 has so far been reasonably ordinary for a player of her caliber especially after her best season last year. The sooner she steps it up, plays error-free and comes out of the lull phase, she will be a force to reckon with once again. And that’s what tennis enthusiasts all over the world are waiting for so eagerly!