Melbourne | Kvitova crushes Collins dream run
Petra Kvitova is writing her own fairy tale in Melbourne by reaching the final of the Australian Open two years after being stabbed in her left hand during a burglary at her home, and severing the tendons.
I'm still not really believing that I'm in the final. I didn't know even if I was going to play tennis again, Petra Kvitova
It was touch and go whether the Czech left-hander would every play again, let alone reach the lofty heights of Grand Slam tennis but here she is, after defeating Danielle Collins to book her place in the final where she will face Naomi Osaka.
It will be a poignant moment for the 28-year-old, who required surgery to save two fingers on her racket hand following the vicious knife attack in December 2016.
Now World No 6, Kvitova has reached the pinnacle of her sport once again, as she will contest her first Grand Slam final since 2014 and, possibly, also land the World No 1 ranking.
Despite the severity of the wounds suffered in the attack, she recovered to play at Wimbledon the following year, a competition she previously has won twice.
On her Grand Slam comeback in July 2017, she said: “The last six months were difficult but now I can push restart. This is only the beginning of my new journey and I will come back stronger.”
Since then she has returned to being among the top-five ranked players in the world and reached her first final at a major on her comeback.
“I’m still not really believing that I’m in the final. I didn’t know even if I was going to play tennis again,” Kvitova said after the semi-final match.
“It wasn’t really a nice time to be dealing with everything. It wasn’t only physically, but mentally it was very tough, as well.
“It took me really a while to believe in the people around me again, and especially men, for sure. I wasn’t confident to be alone somewhere.
“It was a lot of work with the hand, a lot of recovery, treatment. I think the sport life helped me a lot with that. I just set up the mind that I really wanted to come back, and I just did everything.
“Those three months were very, very tough. I found out lately that my doctor wasn’t really happy with my hand during the second month, because the scars were very, very tight and hard, and I couldn’t really do anything with that.
“Luckily he didn’t tell me during that period. It’s been a long journey.
“I’m really happy to be back again. I think not very many people believe that I can do that again, to stand on the court and play tennis and play at this level. It was just really a few of them, I think.
“I’m very happy to have those few around me. Definitely it feels great. Hopefully for them as well, for my family and for everybody who was there when I needed it.”
That persistence and positivity paid off.
Last year marked a return to form for Kvitova with 5 titles and a surge back up the rankings into the top five, but long runs deep into major tournaments proved elusive.
The 2017 US Open quarter-finals were her furthest run at a major, and she didn’t advance past the first week at all four Grand Slams last year.
“Those losses felt pretty long. I had two highlights. When I reached the quarterfinal US Open and I think last year was OK in the US,” Kvitova said.
“For the mental side it wasn’t really easy to kind of deal with that every time coming to the Grand Slam and losing. Maybe that’s why it’s probably sweeter now.”
Kvitova arrived in Melbourne after winning the Sydney International title and in fine shape physically, with an abundance of pace and agility on court complimenting her rocket power.
“I just think that it was just more about the amount of it, more weights, more running, more hours with training than I was able to do it before. I don’t think I did anything specifically differently,” added Kvitova.
“Of course it’s helping my mentality, and I know I can catch more balls, I can be there longer time. Even if it’s heat, I’m able to be there and run and fight whatever is happening. Definitely everything is together. It’s very connected. I’m happy for that.”
Osaka, who has never faced Kvitova, will need to be wary as the Czech has won her past eight finals, including the Sydney earlier this month and during her career, she is 25-7 in title deciders.
“I think it feels better to knowing kind of this, that I do have better percentage of winning than losing in the final,” Kvitova said.
“Every final is different, because every time is just different opponent or different place or time.
“I really love playing finals. I love playing on the big stages. It will be one of them.”
Kvitova has been in imperious form during the entire fortnight, not yet dropping a set and blasting past local hope Ashleigh Barty in the last round to reach the semi-finals.
Up against the giant-slaying Collins, who stunned WTA World No 2 Angelique Kerber en route to the final four, Kvitova had a fight on her hands in the first set but steamrolled to victory in the second, claiming the victory 7-6(2) 6-0 in an hour and 30 minutes.
The Czech outgunned her opponent, raining down 30 winners against the American, and kept the aggressive Collins game contained to just 9.
Her serve was firing too, with 4 aces and winning 75% of points behind her left-handed first serve.
Despite coming into the Australian Open without having won a Grand Slam match in her career, Collins played like a veteran in the first set against Kvitova on Rod Laver Arena.
She claimed the first break with confidence, taking advantage of Kvitova’s misfires and ripping a return winner on a sitting-up serve to edge ahead at 3-2, but the Czech replied in kind a game later, punishing any of Collins’ occasionally short groundstrokes and roaring to a break back at 3-3.
At 4-all, the roof on Rod Laver Arena was closed in accordance with the Australian Open’s Heat Rule, as temperatures soared in Melbourne, much to the Czech’s relief as they marched into a tiebreak.
“I like playing indoors,” she admitted. “It helped me a little bit, but if it was open, I was still going to fight.”
Collins, meanwhile, was not so pleased with the change of conditions.
“Honestly, I like playing in the heat,” she said. “Don’t get me wrong, it has its challenges, but I grew up in Florida and am used to it being really hot all the time.
“Indoor tennis is a different game.”
And so it would prove, as Kvitova’s big-hitting game finally clicked together as she dominated the tiebreak, hitting through the court and raising her level as Collins’ frustration only grew.
After edging through the tough opening set, Kvitova didn’t look back.
She ground out a tough early break of serve to start the set 1-0, and then steamrolled through the next five games in untouchable style.
Collins couldn’t find an answer for the barrage of winners coming in her direction, and she couldn’t threaten the Kvitova serve, as she herself was broken three times to put an end to her Australian Open fairy tale.
The American arrived at the season-opening major as a virtual unknown, after playing most of her tennis on the US college circuit, and exceeded expectations to make the final four.
The 25-year old prides herself on her feisty nature, and was at her combative best early against the Czech 8th seed but faded.
“I definitely don’t think anybody would have put their money on me to get this far in the tournament,” she said.
“I’ve certainly been a big underdog. I think I’ve held that title really well, fought my hardest and I think that can be in there.”
World No 35 Collins, who a year ago was ranked 167, will rise to 23 as a result of her run to the final four.
Her campaign included an extraordinary 6-0 6-2 demolition of German World No 2 Kerber and she ousted three seeds on her way to the final four.
“Maybe some people thought I was a one-hit wonder, it was a fluke,” she said.
“Clearly none of this has been a fluke. I think there is a lot of great things to build off of, and I think I had a really great learning experience throughout the entire tournament, especially today.
“So I’m really excited for my success to be recognised and to continue playing on the biggest stage and against the biggest and best opponents in the world.”
Kvitova’s victory extends her winning streak to 11 matches in a row and marks a big milestone as she is the first Czech woman in an Australian Open singles final since Jana Novotna in 1991.
Into her first Grand Slam final in Melbourne, the two-time Wimbledon champion awaits reigning US Open winner Osaka as she seeks to add the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup to trophy cabinet.
She also stands one win away from claiming the WTA World No 1 ranking for the first time.
With Kvitova and Osaka both in the race for the top spot, the championship match is also set to become a shoot-out for the No 1 ranking.
Currently on a 7-0 winning streak in finals, Kvitova believes that will help her, come Saturday.
“I really love playing finals and I love playing on the big stage,” she smiled. “I’m really looking forward to it.”