Saturday, July 2, 2011

Petra Kvitova beats Sharapova in straight sets to win Wimbledon

When Petra Kvitova--after winning her first Wimbledon title--looked up at the royal box and blew a kiss to Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna, the small gesture spoke volumes. Navratilova, Mandlikova, Sukova, Novotna, Hingis--all these champions had something in common: They were born in what was then Czechoslovakia. The Czech Republic currently has a number of gifted players, but it is the 21-year-old, left-handed Kvitova who has moved far ahead of her countrywomen. Playing with  a tough mentality, line-painting groundstrokes, and a big tricky serve, Kvitova now has a new credential--2011 Wimbledon Ladies Champion.

Kvitova generally hits a high number of aces in a match, and she also tends to experience a second-set mental lapse. Today, she hit only one ace--but it was memorable--and her "off" time lasted only a few moments. The Czech player, who--until she made an appearance in the 2010 Wimbledon semifinals--had never won a match on grass, faced 2004 champion Maria Sharapova in the final. Sharapova, seeded 5th, had not been to a final at the All England Club since she upset Serena Williams seven years ago and won the title. After going through a misdiagnosis, two rehabs, and on-going post-rotator cuff surgery service problems, Sharapova had finally put herself in the position to win another major. Perhaps more significant, she was able to return to the scene in which she became an instant sports superstar.

Sharapova had not dropped a set on her way to the final. She won the coin toss and opted to receive, after which she immediately exposed Kvitova's only real weakness, her movement, and broke her. Sharapova then went down 0-40, however, and was broken at 15. She had a break point against Kvitova in the next game, but the Czech player used her serve to set up winners that enabled her to hold.

When Sharapova double-faulted at 2-all, it was hard to tell whether this was just a "normal" double fault, or whether the service demons that have followed the Russian around lately had found their way onto Centre Court. It would turn out to be the latter. Some expert serving and clinical ball-striking, combined with Sharapova's flustered double-faulting and too-careful serving took Kvitova to a 5-2 lead. Sharapova managed to save a set point on her own serve, but then Kvitova served four almost-unreturnable serves, held at love, and won the first set 6-3.

Sharapova has a well-deserved reputation as a fighter, and Kvitova has that tendency to let a second set go by. She was also making her first appearance on a show court on the last day of a major final. All signs pointed toward a Sharapova takeover. But Kvitova is that rare young player who seems oblivious to "the signs." She just keeps looping that big serve and delivering blazing groundstrokes into the corners. In the Wimbledon final, she also used her backhand slice to good effect to change the direction of the ball.

Sharapova was broken right off in the second set, then Kvitova--double-faulting twice in one game--proceeded to hold. Showing a deft touch, she scooped a ball almost from the court surface to a spot just beyond the net. The second double-fault took the game to deuce, but Kvitova prevented trouble with two more big serves.

It was starting to look like "now or never" time for Sharapova. She must have thought so, too: She held at love. The next game was problematic for Kvitova. She double-faulted again, and she also made an incomprehensible mistake when she powered a smash directly into Sharapova's hitting zone. Sharapova hit a winning lob, and Kvitova was broken. There were four deuces in the  next game, but the 8th-seeded Czech player eventually won it on her second break point with a crosscourt backhand that elicited cheers from spectators. At that moment, the faintest hint of a smile crossed Kvitova's face as she walked to the service box.

At 3-2, Kvitova entered her "lost" zone. She made what would be considered "nervous errors," was broken when she missed a routine volley, and suddenly, it was 3-all. Again--it would have been natural to assume that Sharapova was on her way to turning the match around. And once again, the drama of the moment barely affected Kvitova, who went on to break Sharapova on her second break point.

Kvitova would hold in the seventh game. After Sharapova held at love for 3-5, Kvitova had a look on her face that was something between anxious and weary, with perhaps a little more weight on the weary side. She looked that way when she served for the match, too, but her affect belied her escalating mental strength. Kvitova held at love, hitting her only ace on match point. She was the 2011 Wimbledon champion.

With Kvitova's victory, not only has Czech tennis returned to the forefront, but the "next generation" has finally broken through in a very big way. I find it more thrilling when an older, "true" veteran--especially one who has struggled, like Francesca Schiavone or Li Na--wins a major. But it is also very exciting to see a younger player (who has done nothing but improve over the last couple of seasons) give notice to the tour that she has arrived, with a vengeance. Petra Kvitova has not yet met her potential, a fact which must be a bit scary for some of her peers. She has a huge serve, she's mentally tougher than many of her opponents, and she plays well on all surfaces.

"I'm nothing special," the new champion told the BBC. Many would disagree.


Anonymous said...

Knew she was going to win. Maria's serve was off. As far as the next generation, hmmmm.... If she played CW I don't think she would have won. Very good start for Kvitova though. Let's see how she holds up under the pressure of being a favorite at the next major.

Wayne said...

It has been a while.... those "Crafy Czech's" know a thing a two about winning Major singles finals. No doubt Team Kvitova were well briefed beforehand by Nav - that body serve worked a treat. Today was all about the big WIN, Petra Kvitova will loosen up and add to her maiden Grand Slam title.

Tim OBrien said...

Who is "CW" (anonymous)? I agree with Diane's last paragraph. I sent an email to my son listing all the 22 and under players that now know that they deserve to be in the hunt - Goerges, Lisicki, Wickmayer ... I also have to add Rezai.
A great match! A great win for women's tennis!

Paul said...

I don't rate Sharapova and this final proves that. Also shows the randomness of the women's game. The women's players seem to have far more issues with the mental side of the game and coping with the pressure of a slam. Wozniacki is definitely a choker and so was Safina.

svente said...

@Paul - Sharapova didn't lose bc she couldn't handle the pressure of a slam (she's won three, don't forget) or bc of some imagined mental weakness. She served poorly and Kvitova's power was too much for her.

She was flat-out out-played. Nothing random about that.

Diane said...

Tim, that reference was to Caroline Wozniacki.

There's an article on the Wimbledon site that presumes that no one would have picked Kvitova to win Wimbledon. For anyone who actually watches women's tennis, Kvitova had to be in the converation. said...

So, I do not really believe it will have effect.