I’ve said repeatedly what many others have said about Petra Kvitova. When she is on her A game, she is nearly impossible to beat. If she played consistently to her potential, she would be the #1 ranked player in the world. Yes, even including Serena Williams. But when she’s off, she can lose in the first round, as she did at the first Major of the year, the Australian Open. She first gave the world a peek at her potential when she marched through Maria Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon Ladies’ Singles final. Since then, it’s been a roller coaster ride with Petra, with soaring peaks and low-lying valleys. Every once in a while, she would give a display of her vast weaponry, only to retreat again into her shell. But something happens to her at Wimbledon. The grass suits her game. The environment suits her personality. She talked about her love of Wimbledon and answered a question from former world men’s #1 Mats Wilander about her varying playing levels.
Then something happened in the third round of Wimbledon 2014. Petra faced 5-time Ladies’ Singles champion Venus Williams. The two combined to play the highest, cleanest level of three set women’s tennis I’ve seen in years. They both served beautifully, hard, fast and powerful. It reminded me of watching a men’s match, except that Kvitova and Williams were cleaner off the ground. They both went for shots and produced a match worthy of the impossibility of naming two victors. But in the end, it would be Petra walking away the winner, scoring her only break of Venus’ service in the final game of the contest. The victory seemed to inject Kvitova with not only more confidence but a sense of calm. If she had the answer for Venus playing at a high level, it was unlikely anybody else would give her a tougher test. Yes, Venus isn’t the player she once was, but she has certain days here and there when she does touch those levels. This was one of those days. Petra successfully dealt with the challenge. It wasn’t just that she won. It was how ruthlessly efficient her game was. She was even moving much better than in the past.
Eugenie Bouchard came into the Ladies’ Singles final on a roll of her own. She’s reached at least the semifinals of the first three Majors in 2014. Taking out Serena-conqueror Alizé Cornet, 9th seed Angelique Kerber and 3rd seed Simona Halep on the way to her showdown with Kvitova, Genie seemed poised for a championship run. Instead, that run will have to wait for another day. Petra Kvitova put on a show of majestically lethal tennis. Looking for a couple of bright spots for Genie, I guess I could point out she didn’t come out nervous, winning the first game of the match on her serve. She also had one service break of Kvitova in the first set. That’s about it. Other than those two things, it was all Petra. Her serve was devastating, with spins and angles, not just speed. Oh and speaking of angles…oh my, angles, Angles, ANGLES! Whether it was blasting away on return of serves, putting away short balls or punctuating a rare rally by threading a pinpoint needle of a passing shot winner, Petra was finding angles that eventually had the normally unbreakable will of Bouchard crumbling. As early as the second game of the second set, the young Canadian was raising her arms up as if to say, what can I do. This wasn’t a case like last year when Sabine Lisicki imploded under the pressure and Marion Bartoli took advantage. In this match, Genie didn’t come out and play sloppy tennis. She was just beaten by a player who was giving a virtuoso performance. It only took 55 minutes, a near hour of power from Petra. The final scoreline was 6-3 6-0 for Kvitova. It didn’t even feel that close. Watching in the stands was Petra’s tennis idol, Martina Navratilova. I wonder if Martina watched thinking, oh yeah, I use to do that to opponents, too.
A few last thoughts on the final. It wasn’t the battle some hoped it would be. But earlier in the tournament, actually when Petra beat Venus I believe, I mentioned that often the best match of a tennis event isn’t the final. The Petra-Venus match in the third round was the highest quality match this fortnight. The Angelique Kerber-Maria Sharapova fourth round match was the most dramatic battle. I’ve heard some negative chatter online after Petra’s blowout win about women’s tennis because of the non-competitive final. Well, sometimes men’s finals aren’t competitive either or are filled with error-prone play. But that’s any sport. Sometimes the Super Bowl (see Seattle’s beatdown of Denver) or NBA Finals (see San Antonio’s beatdown of Miami) don’t have the same competitive edge as earlier rounds of the playoffs. You have to watch the whole event. If you paid attention to the entire women’s draw, there were a lot of great matches, highlighted by the two I mentioned previously with Petra, Venus, Kerber and Sharapova.
The other thought is that Genie is definitely moving in the right direction. One change she could make is to have a better plan B. She loves to hang inside the baseline, but Petra kept punishing deep, hard shots. Genie has to develop a game where she can either step back or try to mix things up with slices, spins, anything to try to throw off Kvitova. Chris Evert mentioned on the broadcast when Petra went to the club to hug some of the other Wimbledon members that maybe Genie underestimated Petra’s power a little bit. I don’t know if it’s that she underestimates her opponents, although it could be that, or that she’s so tightly focused on playing her own game that she isn’t prepared when an opponent is hitting through her. At the end of the day, it would have been difficult for anybody to beat Petra on this day. At only 24 years old, Petra Kvitova has captured her sport’s most prestigious title twice. If she moves forward hitting this level more often, she’ll win many more.
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6 PETRA KVITOVA (won 6-3 6-0 vs 13 Eugenie Bouchard)