Petra Kvitova turned back time on Saturday by winning the WTA 500 title at the Rothesay International in Eastbourne for the first time, defeating defending champion Jelena Ostapenko in the final, 6-3 6-2, and with an eye to increasing her tally of Wimbledon titles to three at The Championships, which start on Monday.
So I was a bit struggling. I was really looking forward to being on my favoured grass, and this is the result of it, which is surprising as well. I’m so happy to be there [at Wimbledon] again, it’s a beautiful tournament and I will enjoy it. I’m not losing points, I’m not gaining points, so whatever. Petra Kvitova
“Playing on the grass is very special for me, every time,” said the 32-year-old Czech, who won the singles at Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014. “It’s the best preparation for Wimbledon, as well.”
Kvitova won the first of her 29 tour singles titles in 2009 and, from then on, the only player to win more titles on tour is American Serena Williams, with 41 to her name during that 13-year time-frame.
The Czech becomes the 5th player over the age of 30 to win a title this year, joining Simona Halep (Melbourne Summer Set 1), Angelique Kerber (Strasbourg), Tatjana Maria (Bogota) and Zhang Shuai (Lyon).
Eastbourne has been the perfect tune-up for Kvitova, who has not had the best of seasons but found her way back to good form this week to claim her first grass-court title in 4 years after having lost the final to Marion Bartoli 11 years ago before claiming her maiden Wimbledon triumph 2 weeks later.
“I do feel very well on the grass,” said the former World No 2, who will play Italy’s Jasmine Paolini in the 1st-round at Wimbledon next week. “I moved very nicely as well, playing some good shots, serving well, returning well, but it will be totally different over there.
“It’s a new tournament, a new week, everything can happen. I’m just looking forward to being there but it’s just difficult to compare [to 2011 and 2014]. I know I will give everything I have on the court and we will see what happens.”
The Czech has won both of her previous matches against Paolini in straight sets, at the 2020 Roland Garros and last year’s Olympics.
Kvitova explained to WTA Insider that her frustrating season had sapped all the joy out of her tennis but now, she goes into her favourite tournament feeling far more optimistic about her chances.
“I feel great,” she said. “I enjoyed it today for sure. Overall the whole match was pretty good tennis, I think.
“I started very well and just kept going. The whole match I was trying to push myself, especially in my service games.
“I know Jelena likes to play on grass, she’s the defending champion here. I knew she would be a really tough opponent and she was today.
“I felt OK in Birmingham already, but it was a little bit too early, and I had Beatriz [Haddad Maia] in the first round, and she was on fire. Since then I still practiced and I was playing well, even in the practices.
“I think the first match against Donna [Vekic] was where I felt, ‘Wow, that was a really nice match after a long time’ so, I think, that was the beginning of it, for sure.
“I felt good, I served well, I had 11 aces in my opening match. It was something I was waiting for a long time.
“Since then I just kept going, even though the next match was up and down, but I just fought and found a way.“
Kvitova dropped the first set to Britain’s Katie Boulter before righting the ship and getting past another Brit, Harriet Dart, in straight sets, and then facing her sternest test in Haddad Maia in the semi-finals, avenging her Birmingham loss and ending the Brazilian’s hot streak of 12 matches, including 2 consecutive titles on grass.
In the final, Kvitova was flawless on serve and surged into an early lead, racking up 18 winners on the back of some superb ball-striking against Ostapenko, who was on a 9-match winning streak of her own at Eastbourne.
“My serve was working, but still I needed some breaks, or I’m playing a tiebreak, which is always 50-50,” said Kvitova.
Kvitova broke Ostapenko early in both sets and always looked to be in control of the contest as she capitalised on the Latvian’s second serve.
She was truly tested only once during the encounter, saving 5 break points in a marathon 12-minute game at 2-1 in the second set, the only serious challenge to the Czech’s dominance on the day.
In fact, the powerful left-hander never looked in any danger of further disappointment on the south coast as she brushed aside an off-colour Ostapenko in just an hour and 17 minutes.
“I am very delighted, of course, after a special final,” Kvitova said after the match. “I knew that Jelena is playing well here on grass [and is the] defending champion, so, I was really prepared for the fast, aggressive game which she played.
“It was a good match from both of us.”
As early as the 4th game, Kvitova had a chance to go up by a double-break and had 3 more chances in the 6th game but missed out again while, in the 8th, she held 2 consecutive set points on Ostapenko’s serve, but the Latvian saved them to cut the deficit to 3-5, before the Czech routinely served out the set.
After losing the opener, Ostapenko held at the start of the second, but Kvitova then went on a run as she claimed back-to-back breaks and snagged 5 games on the trot to open up a 5-1 lead.
Although she missed out on a match point in the 7th game, she served out for the match in the next.
Kvitova later revealed that she still sometimes feels the effects of the knife attack she suffered in December 2016 when a man broke into her home, which left her needing surgery on her playing hand, but she is determined to enjoy Wimbledon despite the absence of ranking points following the ban on Russian and Belarusian players.
“I’m not thinking about it [winning the title]. I was not thinking, even in 2011, about it,” she said. “I was just going to play match by match which, I think, I am going to do the same because my year so far wasn’t great at all – it was my first semi-final, final and title of the year.
“So I was a bit struggling. I was really looking forward to being on my favoured grass, and this is the result of it, which is surprising as well.
“I’m so happy to be there [at Wimbledon] again, it’s a beautiful tournament and I will enjoy it. I’m not losing points, I’m not gaining points, so whatever.”
Kvitova is now 5-1 in grass-court finals in her career, with the last coming at Birmingham in 2018.
Meanwhile, 8th-seeded Ostapenko, who was a Wimbledon semi-finalist 4 years ago and won the 2017 French Open, was disappointed not to be able to pull off the defence of her Eastbourne title.
The Latvian had not dropped a set all week but struggled to deal with Kvitova’s booming left-handed serve and blistering forehand during an error-strewn display.
The 25-year-old’s below-par showing was perhaps explained when, later, Ostapenko withdrew from the women’s doubles final alongside her partner Lyudmyla Kichenok from Ukraine because of a right toe injury, handing the title to Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic & Magda Linette from Poland, who had also reached the final by virtue of a walk-over given by Serena Williams & Ons Jabeur on Thursday.
Ostapenko is the 12th seed at Wimbledon and has a first-round match scheduled on Monday against Oceane Dodin of France.