A feeling of uncertainty is one undoubtedly familiar to fans of Petra Kvitova. The two-time Wimbledon champion possesses a game such that any match might be miraculous, or just as easily a disaster. At her best, she has the power to defeat anybody on the WTA Tour, but that absolute is largely fleeting, and mostly saved for the lawns of London.
Another familiar passage in the Book of Petra is the unending belief that this is her big year. By now, it has been the Czech’s big year so many times that new careers have since blossomed in her shadow — even attempting to usurp her on her favorite turf. Eugenie Bouchard made her way through to the finals of Wimbledon last year, only to encounter an opponent that could have obliterated even the most experienced of major finalists – for the Canadian, it was a baptism by fire.
The big year has still not truly come to fruition, even with the two Wimbledon trophies she can boast to her name. We have yet to see her genuinely compete for more than one of the major events (last year, Bouchard was a factor at all of them), and we have yet to see her develop a consistency that can keep her in the week-in, week-out conversation. Just as she has this week in Madrid, Kvitova began 2015 with a title in Sydney and looking like a favorite to strike gold Down Under before taking a signature surprise loss to an in-form Madison Keys.
At present she is a bewildering outlier.
The biggest challenge for Kvitova remains finding the court on which she is so physically capable of dominating. Her power is such that, if her timing is slightly off, the ball will fly meters beyond the baseline — even flying directly at the court backboards, impacting with an almighty thud. There are days when, with guilty relish, one cannot help but grin at the line judges ducking for cover as they attempt to make muted out-calls.
What is most enticing about these disasters though is watching with the knowledge of what can be. When Kvitova is on song — as she was for two dominating wins over World No. 1 Serena Williams and 2009 French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova — the cross-court forehand is one of the greatest you will see in modern tennis. If it does not skip past a flailing opponent, it certainly hits their racquet with a force that sends her falling backwards, allowing Kvitova to move in and make the kill. Though she is capable of great things at the net herself, attempting to volley against the former No. 2 leaves you dicing with death — your racquet hand had better be quick as the ball comes flying back at you.
All of this is why she has been so brilliant on grass. The court itself serves to amplify her strengths, while traditional grass court tactics from her opponents play into her suddenly deft hands.
Where Kvitova has also impressed is at the helm of an incredibly strong period of Czech women’s tennis. At Fed Cup, the her nation’s team is monumentally strong, with Lucie Safarova, Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova currently the best of the rest rounding out the competition. The ostensibly languid 25-year-old is at her best when she is fired up, which perhaps explains her Fed Cup success — playing for one’s country brings with it a certain extra motivation.
Shrieks of “POJD!” can come in streams, a short sharp yelp that has become a recognizable battle cry.
While Kvitova is a popular player among crowds, she has quite-literally courted controversy away from the sport. Her relationship with Radek Stepanek came shortly after his own divorce from compatriot Nicole Vaidisova, who is only now returning to tennis after years away from a game she once dominated. Now separated from Stepanek, Kvitova will be hoping to put home country gossip columns to one side and instead focus on building a prolific career, one worthy of even greater headlines than she has already earned.
It is hard not to love players like Petra Kvitova. Her style leaves you guessing match after match. It draws you in with the constant promise of greatness or great loss. In many ways she is an addictive personality, a strong physical presence with a soft voice and a belting forehand that completely delights.
For all of that promise, this weekend marked Kvitova’s first-ever win over a reigning No. 1, a brutalizing affair that ended Williams’ undefeated season, and providing yet another glimpse at just how exciting and dominant a player she could be.
Blink, and you could miss the fleeting genius of a player we can’t help but love.