After devastating attack, Kvitova returns to form
  | By Brian Coleman
Photo courtesy of USTA/Mike Lawrence

 

This story first appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of Long Island Tennis Magazine. Click Here to read the full digital edition. 

In mid-March, Petra Kvitova made her way to the podium inside Hard Rock Stadium, the new home of the Miami Open.

She sat in front of the press following a hard-fought, three-set defeat to Ashleigh Barty, the tournament’s eventual champion. But Kvitova wasn’t there to discuss break points or first serve percentages.

Instead, she addressed a verdict in a court case more than 5,000 miles away in her native Czech Republic that had been rendered earlier in the day, as 33-year-old Radim Zondra was sentenced to eight years in prison. Zondra had stabbed Kvitova two years prior, in December 2016, in a home invasion.

“Yeah, I heard that, for sure, I heard that this morning,” said Kvitova. “I accepted the news. I’m happy for the news and I’m glad it’s over now.”

For Kvitova, she was glad to put the horrific ordeal behind her. Just a month prior, Kvitova entered the courtroom and relived the encounter, saying that there was “blood all over the place.” She sustained substantial damage to ligaments and tendons in her wrist, and required four hours of surgery to repair them following the attack.

Kvitova testified that her doorbell rang, she opened the door and saw Zondra, who she initially thought was there for a drug test. He claimed to be there to inspect her boiler. Kvitova’s positive identification and DNA evidence led to the conviction.

“She’s satisfied with the verdict because she identified the convicted person as the attacker,” said Karel Tejkal, Kvitova’s spokesman.

Initially, doctors feared that her tennis career may be over, and she may even lose fingers, but the two-time Wimbledon champion did not let her career come to a halt as a result of the attack, and returned to action in May 2017 at the French Open. 

“I’m really happy that I’m here, that dreams come true,” Kvitova told WTA Insider at the time. “I’m here in the draw and I’m playing tennis again. It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I worked through this. I know my hand is not perfectly ready, and it’s still not 100 percent, so we will see how everything goes, but I’m happy that I’m able to play again.” 

She won her opening round match against American Julia Boserup, but fell to another American, Bethanie Mattek-Sands, in the following round. Despite that early defeat, Kvitova had already accomplished more than most people thought was possible just a few months prior.

“It will probably take more than a year to get full movement back, I’m not sure,” Kvitova would later say. “For tennis and for life, it’s good. I’ve done everything that I could but there is still some space to improve it. I hope that with more time I will be even stronger. I am happy that I was always looking forward to the better tomorrow.”

Kvitova would go on to say that without tennis, she doesn’t think she could have handled this adversity with the same positive outlook. She was told by many people that her chances of playing professional tennis again were not likely, but she refused to let others, most notably her attacker, write her story.

“I was like, ‘Why are they saying this?’ It was very painful for me … it felt like they didn’t believe in me,” Kvitova recalled. “Of course, at that time, I probably didn’t know how bad it was because nobody told me—and I am happy for that now. My doctor told me that many other experts thought that I would never ever play. He didn’t want to tell me—and that was a good decision for my mental state of mind. The week after surgery I asked my doctor, ‘Do you think I could play in Wimbledon this year?’ He didn’t answer for a while and then he said, ‘We are going to work on it and blah, blah, blah.’ I understood then that it wasn’t going to be easy.”

And she has exceeded even her own expectations. Kvitova has done more than just return to the court, she has excelled. Last year, she won titles in St. Petersburg and Doha, before heading home to the Czech Republic to compete in the J&T Banka Prague Open.

She defeated Romania’s Mihaela Buzarnescu in the finals, taking home the title in her home country just over a year after her attack.

“Last year, I was sitting here during the final supporting Kristyna Pliskova,” Kvitova said. “I believed I could play this year and I am very happy for that.”

Her incredible return to form in 2018 in such a quick period of time is a true testament to her perseverance, positive outlook, and more simply, her sheer talent as a tennis player. Kvitova was one of the eight players who qualified for the end-of-the-year WTA Finals in Singapore. And while she would drop all three of her round-robin matches, the fact that she was even able to finish the year as one of the world’s best players was a remarkable achievement as she embarked on what she called her “second career.”

So those results laid the foundation for what could be even more improvement for Kvitova in 2019, and she wasted no time in getting her year started. She powered her way to the Sydney title, taking out Aryna Sabalenka, Angelique Kerber and Ashleigh Barty en route to the championship. That set her up for a deep run in Melbourne at the Australian Open, a tournament where she hadn’t advanced out of the third round since 2012.

Kvitova compiled 11 straight victories dating back to the beginning of the Sydney tournament to reach the finals of the Australian Open, her first Grand Slam final since she won Wimbledon in 2014.

“I don’t think that many believed that I could do that again … to stand on the court and play tennis at that kind of level,” said Kvitova after she defeated American Danielle Collins in the semifinals. “It was just a few of them, I think. I’m very happy to have those few around me. And it definitely feels great—I hope for them as well, and for my family and everyone who was there when I needed it. It’s been five years. That’s why I worked hard to be back here. It tastes great.”

In the finals, she took on Naomi Osaka, and the two put on a fantastic final. Unfortunately for Kvitova, Osaka was able to win her second consecutive Grand Slam title with a thrilling 7-6(2), 5-7, 6-4 victory.

While it was a tough loss for Kvitova to swallow, her fight and performance were indicators of what we can expect from the second half of the Czech’s career.

“It’s hurting a lot today,” she said. “I wanted to win and have the trophy. But I think I already won two years ago. For me, it’s amazing. I think I still don’t really realize that I played the final. I think I’ve been through many, many things, not really great ones. As I said on the court, I didn’t know if I was going to hold a racket again … I’m holding it, so that’s good. I feel great to be playing great tennis. I don’t think that I could really imagine the time to be kind of this player again. I wanted to be back stronger, that’s for sure. I was pretty close, but pretty far. So I need one more step to hold a major trophy.”

As we approach the middle two Grand Slams of the year, Kvitova has a clear goal in mind, and with the level of tennis she has risen to, she has to be considered a favorite at the French Open and Wimbledon, the latter of which she has won twice in her career. With a new outlook on her playing career, a more determined attitude and, most importantly, her health, Kvitova’s return to form is one of the best storylines in tennis.

 

 

Brian Coleman

Brian Coleman is the Senior Editor for Long Island Tennis Magazine. He may be reached at brianc@usptennis.com