The Czech star who broke out at Wimbledon in 2010 by storming to the semifinals and then winning the title a year later hasn’t gotten completely used to the overwhelming attention and scrutiny that comes with being a Top 5 player. She’s guaranteed the world’s top ranking should she win at Melbourne Park. And with it, many, many more questions.
Saturday afternoon in Rod Laver Arena, Kvitova took another step toward capturing her second major title – and the No.1 ranking – with a decisive performance over No.27 seed Maria Kirilenko. Kvitova led 6-0, 1-0 when the Russian retired with a left abductor strain.
While the former Australian Open quarterfinalist’s movement was clearly hampered, Kvitova was striking the ball with supreme clarity: she knocked down 23 winners out of 33 points won, including three aces and 10 winners from her wicked lefty forehand, the stroke that has helped her climb from No.157 in the world at the end of 2007 to where she is today.
Kvitova’s meteoric rise in the rankings has been tamed by her subdued, nothing-seems-to-phase her demeanor. The Wimbledon champion said she and her team didn’t go out to celebrate after she won her first slam. “Weird, yes, but for me it’s normal.”
But what isn’t normal is Kvitova’s ability to engage in some of the most fiery and dangerous women’s tennis being played on tour at the present moment. Her game speaks for itself: loud groundstrokes pop off her racquet with daring velocity as Kvitova silently scours the baseline. She’s known for her point-winning celebratory bark. Grunt? She does not.
“[I’m] only focused on my game,” Kvitova said after her win over Kirilenko.
“I don’t know who lost and who won,” Kvitova said of paying attention to other matches. “No, really, for me [I don’t] care.”
Some of the most threatening players in women’s tennis are also the game’s loudest: Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams to name a few. Maria Kirilenko is also a grunter, but Kvitova’s imposing depth and tremendous angles quieted Kirilenko on Saturday afternoon before an injury hampered her from continuing.
“When she’s playing well it’s very difficult to read her game,” Kirilenko said after the loss. “She was playing very, very good today ... Everything was in.”
Everything wasn’t in for Kvitova on Thursday afternoon on Hisense Arena. She came back from a break down in the third set to fend off pesky Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round, winning that match 6-2, 2-6, 6-4.
“I mean, it was very important match to have like this in this tournament. It's good that I [came] through and I have won,” Kvitova said on Thursday after the over two-hour battle. “For my mentality, it was very tough, and I fight today. So, I mean, it was good preparation for next match. I know that I can fight and I can win if I'm playing badly.”
What everyone wants so badly to know here is how Kvitova will react should she not only win the tournament here, but also overtake Caroline Wozniacki for the top ranking. In her pre-tournament press conference Kvitova was peppered with questions about such a possibility.
“Actually when I start to play tennis, I didn’t think I would be professional tennis player,” Kvitova said. “So for me [to win] the Wimbledon, [the WTA] Championships, Fed Cup, it wasn’t my dream. But it’s very nice.”
As for being increasingly more recognized in the Czech Republic and beyond, Kvitova appears somewhat uncomfortable, but similarly unfazed by the situation.
“Yeah, it's really strange for me. We have to live with this,” she explained in broken English.
Back in Sydney, a week before she was due to face the glare of the media on tennis’s first big stage of 2012, Kvitova faced just a single camera and pondered what being No.1 really would mean. She whispered with a media handler, smiling slightly, her eyes locking with the interviewer.
“It would be very nice,” she said, a glamourized portrait of her in the background, part of the “Strong is Beautiful” ad campaign. “But I won’t do anything to celebrate.”