Her spirit was there and her mind willing, but her body could not quite get her over the line.
Petra Kvitova’s comeback to the Australian Open ended in the first round Tuesday with a 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 loss against Andrea Petkovic. Kvitova, who missed last year’s event, served for the match twice but to no avail. The effects of a recent fever and lingering cough were perhaps factors down the stretch.
But if anyone is likely to be able to put a loss in perspective, it is Kvitova.
Twelve months ago, she was in Gran Canaria, trying to quiet her mind after she was attacked by a knife-wielding intruder in her own home weeks earlier – an attack that left her with serious injuries to her dominant left hand. The Czech was trying to relax in the winter sunshine when she was alerted to a video on Twitter.
The message showed many of her fellow professionals telling the two-time Wimbledon champion how much they missed her, how they wished her a speedy recovery and that they looked forward to seeing her back on tour soon.
Already determined to come back, despite the severity of her hand injury, which required four hours of surgery, the messages of support gave her an added impetus at a time when she was attempting – and failing – to not watch the Australian Open on TV.
“It was very, very nice,” a smiling Kvitova told ESPN.com at Melbourne Park this week. “I did watch a lot of [the matches]. I’m not sure it was a good idea. I tried to watch more of the men’s, but of course sometimes I saw some of the women’s as well. Mentally it was very tough.”
But mental toughness is something Kvitova has showed an astonishing level of, given what she went through. When she returned to the tour, at the French Open last May, she was seemed calm – at least on the outside.
“[That] was the worst thing about Paris,” she said. “I knew that some bad questions will come. To be honest, I was pretty nervous before it. [The attack] was still pretty [recent], and the emotions were not great. I was still believing, but I couldn’t really use my left hand, which was weird. I needed help from other people.
“Normally I am very independent, so suddenly I couldn’t drive the car or put my jacket on or jeans on and everything. So I was feeling a totally different person. As time went by, and the hand was feeling better, the emotions were better and better, too.”
Amazingly, Kvitova won her second tournament, on the grass of Birmingham, but it wasn’t until she reached the quarterfinals of the US Open last September, beating Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza along the way, that she really believed she was back to somewhere close to her old self on the court.
“I have to say, I played without fear, being back on the grass, it was more like adrenaline than anything else,” Kvitova said. “The US Open, when I came to New York, from the first practice I felt much better.
Considering everything she has been through, there are bound to be difficult moments, memories that won’t go away. But Kvitova insists she is trying to look forward.
“Of course, the flashbacks are still there and probably will never be gone, but on the other hand, I feel more normal than before,” Kvitova said. “So this is a good sign for sure. I think sometimes I think I am not really thinking about small things as much as I did before.”
At 27, she has plenty of time to add to her Grand Slam collection. A fever she thinks she caught on the plane to Melbourne interrupted her preparations, but she has never been the kind of player who needs to spend hours on court to be close to her best.
Former world No. 1 Martina Navratilova said last week that she believes Kvitova can win another major this year, and Wimbledon, where she’s won twice, is the most likely spot.
Despite the loss Tuesday, Kvitova is feeling good and her hand, which was so badly mauled, looks great.
“My doctor says it’s good,” she said. “It will never be perfect, probably. But the scars are getting softer. I think the strength is there. I think the movement is not the best, but he said it will improve, so I hope so.”
Petra was born to Jiří Kvita and Pavla Kvitová in Bilovec, a small town in the east of the Czech Republic. Her family spent a lot of time playing tennis at the local club and Petra started on her tennis journey by picking up balls for her brothers, Libor and Jiří, at 3 years old.
Petra’s father, a self-taught tennis player, became her coach growing up and used to show Petra videos of Martina Navratilova playing at Wimbledon, which she would watch with fascination.
I have so much respect for Martina, I watched her on television when I was a child, and that’s where I learnt about Wimbledon and playing on grass. It is nice to know that I have her support and it was special to see her on Centre Court when I won the title.
Growing up in Fulnek where there was only a short window for outdoor sports because of harsh winter weather, Petra spent a lot of time training on fast indoor surfaces, where she learned to play fast and hit flat. This had a huge impact on how Petra honed her game and developed the all-out attacking style for which she is now renowned.
It was not until Petra won the junior tournament of Pardubice, a prestigious event in the Czech Republic, that her family decided it was time for her to start pursuing a professional career. In 2006, Petra moved to the famous Prostejov Tennis Club, away from home and family. It was not an easy transition for a 16-year-old girl, but Petra adapted quickly and started to show rapid progress.
In 2007, Petra won four ITF singles titles and rose from No.773 to No.157 in the world. In 2008, Petra achieved direct entry into her first ever Grand Slam event at Roland Garros. She reached the last 16 and finished the year ranked No.44 in the world. This was also the year she joined forces with her coach, David Kotyza.
2011 was a spectacular breakthrough year for Petra. She started off by cracking the top 10 in the world after winning her first clay-court tournament in Madrid. Two months later, she lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish at Wimbledon, marching through the draw and stunning Maria Sharapova in the final. Her life was to change forever…
“The Wimbledon final is a very happy memory for me. I was so focused on match point that when I won it felt like a dream. It was strange, I had a dream about winning Wimbledon during the French Open that year, and then a couple of weeks later it came true. I couldn’t believe it. It was definitely one of the happiest moments
of my life.”
Petra became the first player born in 1990s, male or female, to win a Grand Slam title. She finished the 2011 season winning the prestigious season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul and climbed to No.2 in the world. To cap off a dream year, which included 6 titles in total, she proudly led the Czech team to Fed Cup victory for the first time since 1988.
Petra had a solid 2012 season despite injury and illness, resulting in two Grand Slam semifinals at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, and she reached the quarterfinal at Wimbledon as defending champion, losing out to eventual champion Serena Williams. She was also crowned the Emirates US Open Series champion, with two titles at Montreal and New Haven. She led her country to a second successive Fed Cup triumph in the same year that the Czech Republic also pulled off victory in the Davis Cup.
Petra received two pieces of advice from Martina Navratilova before the 2011 Wimbledon final: don’t be too happy that you are in the final; don’t think of it as the Wimbledon final but treat it as a normal match
Petra’s favorite surfaces is grass, but she also loves to play indoors
The most important person in Petra’s career is her father, Jiří, who introduced her to tennis and honed her talent at a young age
Coach: Jiri Vanek
Jiri Vanek is a former ATP player who reached a career-high singles ranking of No.74 in October 2000 and amassed 11 titles on the Challenger circuit. After retiring in 2011, Vanek coached Czech No.1 Karolina Pliskova to five WTA titles and her first Grand Slam final in 2016. He is married to Marketa Kochta, also a former pro player, and has two sons, Jiri Giorgio (13) and Tom Nicolas (9).
PR manager: Katie Spellman
Working together since 2012. Katie is from England but lives in Toronto, Canada. Katie spent the first seven years of her career as a sports journalist on the Sunday Mirror and The Times before joining the communications team at the WTA, where she worked closely with Petra and other top WTA players as part of the communications team. Katie set up her own PR consultancy business in 2012 with Petra as her first client.
Marijn Bal has been Petra’s manager at IMG since August 2014 and represents Petra globally. A former collegiate tennis player, Marijn is originally from The Netherlands, and currently works out of the IMG office in Bradenton, Florida, where he has been based since 2008 and takes care of Petra’s day-to-day business related matters.
Fitness trainer: David Vydra
Petra has been working with David, who is from Prague, since June 2015. Before working with Petra, David spent 7 years working with Tomas Berdych and several months working with Lukas Rosol.
I arrived in Singapore on Tuesday night and I’m hoping the jet lag will be gone by Monday when I step on court for my first match at this year’s WTA Finals.
I’ve spent the last two months chasing the points I needed to qualify as one of the top eight players in the world, travelling from New York to Europe to China and now Singapore, and it feels great to have finally made it.
I’m not feeling too bad and I certainly hope to do better than last year, when I lost two of my three round-robin matches. Reaching the Finals is one of my goals every year and I know what it feels like to end the season on a high after winning on my debut in 2011.
There is not much time to rest when you arrive at the season finale, with all sorts of commitments off court as well as the need to practise, but fortunately I’m the sort of person who likes like to keep busy. Let’s just hope that the jet lag wears off after three or four days!
‘Playing without motivation is tough’
I’m especially happy to be here playing the WTA Finals after taking the most time off during a season that I think I ever have.
I took a month out earlier in the year, something I never really did before, so it was kind of a new experience but showed me that I can still come back, play well and stay in the top five. That’s great.
Winning three Premier titles along the way was amazing, as well as beating Serena Williams in Madrid, although of course I wanted to have some better results in the Grand Slams.
But I think you can always take something good from the bad things, so that’s what I’m trying to do, and I still have my motivation. I’m really happy to be here competing as one of the top eight.
This already feels like it has been a special season, but with the Fed Cup final against Russia to follow Singapore it could be a really great end to the year.
It won’t quite match up to Serena’s season, even though she won’t be playing in Singapore. I think she was very disappointed when she lost at the US Open, just two wins from completing the calendar Grand Slam, and it was then tough to find the motivation to play the end of the season.
Playing just because she has to is not really her way of playing. Playing without motivation is tough even for her, but I think what she did this year is great.
‘I’m not a fan of airplane food’
I have been on some very long flights over the last two months, heading back from the US Open to Europe, then returning from China for a break in the Czech Republic before coming here to Singapore.
It can be tricky to cope with this kind of schedule, which means many, many hours in the air, but I’m lucky that I have no problem sleeping on a plane!
When you fly as much as I do, you get into a pretty familiar routine. I don’t do any exercises when flying but use compression socks, and spend as much time as possible lying down. I try not to eat much – I’m not a fan of airplane food, everything is just so weird.
I always take my book, my MP3, my phone and my computer. I like to watch movies – I just saw the documentary about Amy Winehouse, which was very good and emotional.
The other thing I always try to travel with by my side is my racquet bag. It’s kind of big and sometimes I have a bit of trouble with that, but usually I can persuade them to let it on!
‘I hit once a day and really give everything’
Unfortunately I lost early in Beijing and then couldn’t go to Moscow as planned, but it did give me a few extra days off to rest and recover, and then I had a really good practice in the Czech Republic.
I think maybe Aga Radwanska, Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep arrived in Singapore before me. With only eight singles players at the tournament sometimes it can be more difficult to arrange practice but we are lucky with the players here this year and before the draw is made it’s a little bit easier.
We have the coaches to hit with as well but before the matches I think it’s just time to play some points and get the final touches from the coaches.
There is always a lot of work going on behind the scenes at a tournament and that’s even more true at the WTA Finals, where we have many activities during the day and you really have to set everything up.
It is for sure a big part of the coach’s job to make sure the tennis does not get neglected. I don’t think you can do much great practice here so we are trying to hit once a day and really give everything to the session, then we have the other commitments.
I’m happy how we’ve arranged everything and even though it’s still been a really long season for me, I feel OK now and ready for a challenging few weeks.
Petra Kvitova was talking to BBC Sport’s Piers Newbery