Women's title wide open
Two years since emotional return to Roland-Garros, Czech enters new territory.
Petra Kvitova laughs hysterically, her blonde plait swirling about her head as she bounces about the service box on Court Suzanne-Lenglen trying to ensure the football doesn’t hit the dirt.
It’s an impromptu game of keepy-uppy with her team in a training session ahead of her 11th Roland-Garros campaign and the Czech couldn’t appear more relaxed.
It’s an extraordinary progression considering it is only two years since an emotional return to this same court after a knife attack at home.
“I think for Paris I do have kind of different memories since two years [ago], which was my first tournament to come back,” Kvitova said. “I just reminded myself yesterday actually when we arrived and then played here on Suzanne-Lenglen. You know, the time is really flying fast. Two years is like nothing.”
Fronting for her pre-tournament media commitments is in marked contrast to entering a packed press conference on the eve of that 2017 return.
“I like this press conference more than that one for sure,” Kvitova smiled. “It wasn't really nice, to be honest.
“Afterwards, I was pretty proud that I didn't cry for so long … But of course it was a different situation, as well. Yeah, in the two years [it has] changed a lot.”
Despite each milestone passed in the comeback – holding a racquet again, to winning a match, then quickly rejoining the tournament winners’ circle – earlier than expected exits at the grand slams became frequent.
In 2018, Kvitova won just four matches across the majors.
That all changed in January. Four and half years since reaching the second of her two prior Grand Slam finals, Kvitova reeled off six straight wins at the Australian Open to find herself one win from a third major, one win from assuming top spot in the rankings for the first time.
Naomi Osaka steadied on that Saturday night to deny her more experienced opponent.
But this run already meant more to Kvitova than winning two major finals.
“I didn't have great results for so many Grand Slams in the past, and I already did great result in the Australian Open, which I'm very proud of it,” she said.
“I couldn't really imagine myself playing in the final again. So for me I think it's kind of something I already proved myself … so whatever happens, happens [in Paris].
“I have been in the semi-final here one year, so I'm not questioning myself if I can do well here. Here I'm feeling good. It's important.”
In what is typically her least favourite surface, Kvitova has built up a handy record with three of her eight titles coming on clay since her return, including in Stuttgart last month.
Seeded sixth, she meets Romanian Sorana Cirstea in the first round and could run into defending champion Simona Halep in the quarter-finals.
There is again a chance at rising to world No.1 should she go all the way this fortnight and if Osaka fails to reach the semi-finals.
“For me, it's kind of like a miracle,” Kvitova said. “When I was trying to come back and play on the higher level, I couldn't really imagine being one match from being No.1 in the world and playing for the title of the slam [in Australia].
“I have been pretty close already to be No.1 before. Now I was again in Melbourne. So we'll see what will happen in the rest of the year.”
Two years since winning that first match back on Chatrier, an ascent to No.1 may still seem miraculous to Kvitova.
But it is no longer the impossible prospect it would have seemed on the eve of Roland-Garros 2017.