Emotional win for Kvitova on return
Barely five months after the attack which threatened her career, Petra Kvitova's first match back was a triumph on every level.
On a normal day, a 6-3, 6-2 first round win by a two-time Wimbledon champion and current world No.16 over a player ranked 70 places lower would generate little comment; and nor, when the higher-ranked player triumphed, would that person usually drop their racket in disbelief, tears in their eyes on and on their cheeks, while the crowd rose in acclaim. Petra Kvitova’s opening day triumph on Court Philippe-Chatrier was the exception. In circumstances that were anything but routine, she produced a victory over not just her opponent Julia Boserup but very much more.
It is barely five months since the Czech suffered career-threatening injuries to her playing hand when an intruder at her Prostejov apartment attacked her with a knife. Just last Friday she confirmed that Roland-Garros 2017 would see her restored to competition, and at 11.09am on humid Parisian morning, she struck her first ball in anger since she and her compatriots lifted the Fed Cup last November.
The word “courage” is frequently bandied about idly in the sporting context, when what is actually meant is mere resourcefulness, or ingenuity. This was one of the rare occasions when it was not only reasonable, but essential to apply it. Plenty of knowledgeable onlookers feared Kvitova would be either unable to complete a full match here, or that the result might have embarrassed her. Boserup, they worried, would occupy the unenviable role of The One To Defeat Our Beloved Heroine on her return, unforgiven for exercising the essential unsentimental competitive desire to defeat your opponent no matter what the circumstances.
These knowledgeable onlookers were obliged to dine on their own words, and did so gladly, finding it a most delicious repast. Kvitova was 3-0 up in eight minutes, with winners pouring from her racquet. But Boserup’s ranking has climbed steadily this year, boosted by an Australian Open win over Francesca Schiavone no less – champion here, of course, in 2010. She tested Kvitova sufficiently that ultimately the No.15 seed required 41 minutes to close out that first set. After that Boserup found the second far tougher, and Kvitova’s winner count reached 31 by the time the job was done.
“This match was special to me,” she acknowledged afterwards. “It wasn’t really about the game today. I’ve said before that I’ve already won the biggest fight, and now I won for the second time. It was such a heart-warming welcome on Chatrier, and everyone who helped me through the difficult time was there, including my family. Yesterday I was wondering what it would be like, and I couldn’t imagine it. I thought I might cry when I stepped on court, which I didn’t do. But at the end I didn’t have to control my emotions any more, so a few tears.
“I had no pain in my hand – it felt a little weird after the rain [a five-minute delay near the start of the second set], but that went after one point. I promised my doctor, who gave me the green light to play here, that if I feel pain in my hand at any time I will stop. It’s a little tricky sometimes – couple of times I didn’t feel the racquet that strongly in my hand. But starting the match with a forehand winner was amazing. I feel great.”
This was a match which redefined the expression “first return”, yet she will experience many more such returns for months to come. Everywhere she goes, each person she knows and is seeing for the first time since the attack will wish to embrace her, figuratively or literally. Every crowd at every tournament will rise to her, in recognition of what she has been through – a clear demonstration of both respect and love. It may be both welcome and touching, but it also requires a certain kind of endurance. Normality is a long way away yet, and baby steps are still in order along her continuing path of recovery.
Yet in this first round, it clearly served her well to reach for the basic mental processes of tennis, taking it point by point, staying in the moment. Remarkably, for Kvitova this match was both a useful workout and a rock solid win – in short, everything she could have wanted. Its very ordinariness was utterly extraordinary. Chapeau, Petra.