A mere 13 months ago, Petra Kvitova was unsure whether she’d be able to play tennis again.
She had surgery in her left playing hand after a home intruder attacked her with a knife causing serious damage to all five of her fingers.
The Czech two-time Wimbledon champion returned to the tour in May at the French Open last year. She won the title in just her second tournament back, on the lawns of Birmingham, and finished 2017 ranked No. 29 in the world.
Her comeback season alone was a remarkable tale of resilience, bravery, and grit.
‘Courage. Belief. Pojd.’ As the Nike t-shirts worn by her team spelt out in Paris last spring.
Fast-forward to today and Kvitova continues to inspire. With her back-to-back titles in St. Petersburg and Doha in the last three weeks, she has produced some stunning stats.
She is currently on a 13-match winning streak that saw her go 6-0 against top-10 opponents. She beat four top-10 players en route to the Doha title last week, battling back from a set down three times, and is now back in the top-10 for the first time since 2016.
The best thing about it all, is that she says she hasn’t even hit ‘Peak Petra’ form yet.
“I think no,” she told WTA Insider when asked about it. “It’s tough to play the best in these conditions that we had in Doha. Overall I found a way to win. I don’t know how but I did. I didn’t go to the volleys as much I probably should, maybe if we’re playing indoors or somewhere else. I think I moved ok. I don’t think I had too many unforced errors in the long matches. The answer is no, for sure. Hopefully, the peak will come one day.”
The most inspiring part of Kvitova’s journey is how strong she’s been in the face of such a traumatic experience. When you hear her speak during press conferences, she doesn’t dwell on the past, she doesn’t feel sorry for herself, she is choosing to counter it all by working hard and pouring her heart into her tennis.
‘Heart’. What she is doing every day in the court is all about heart. And there’s nothing more relatable or admirable than that.
The 27-year-old pulled out of Dubai after her two-title run this month and it is a break she has fully earned. She can rise even further in the rankings over the next three months and who knows… with the world No. 1 ranking up for grabs most weeks on tour, I wouldn’t be surprised if Kvitova is in contention for the top spot by year-end.
Being back on tour, healthy, and playing the game she loves, is obviously what’s driving Kvitova, not rankings and numbers. But it sure would feel good seeing that number one next to her name.
Karolina Pliskova has already checked off some serious items off her tennis bucket list.
She reached a Grand Slam final (US Open 2016), she became world No. 1 (July 2017), she won nine career titles and scored some big victories including triumphs over both Serena and Venus Williams at the same major (also US Open 2016).
Now ranked No. 5 in the world, Pliskova is still searching for a maiden Grand Slam title but the 25-year-old assures she is in no rush and is focusing on improving her game more than anything else.
Pliskova is seeded No. 3 in Dubai, where she was runner-up to Simona Halep in 2015. Before she opens her campaign against either Carla Suarez Navarro or a qualifier, the Czech star sat down with Sport360 at the Jumeirah Creekside hotel in Dubai.
You were ill in Doha, how are you feeling now heading into Dubai?
Greek youngster Maria Sakkari has fought for more than four hours in scorching Dubai weather to make it through to the third and final round of qualifying, with battling wins over Wang Yafan and Hsieh Su-Wei.
The 22-year-old had posted her first win of the season on Saturday against Wang – a two hour and 29 minute affair – before overcoming Hsieh on Sunday 7-5, 7-5 in one hour and 37 minutes.
Sakkari, ranked No. 60 in the world, will take on ex-US Open champion Sam Stosur on Monday looking to earn a place in the Dubai main draw.
“It’s always tough to play qualies especially in these kind of tournaments, they are so strong, half of the players could be in the main draw in other tournaments. It’s always tough but it’s always good for your confidence,” said the Athens native.
On how she got through her gruelling three-setter against Wang, she added: “Fight and believe in yourself that you can do it. It was my first win of the year so it was quite tough and important so I’m happy that I went through that yesterday and today.”
Sakkari is the only player from Greece ranked in the WTA top 180 and leads just six women from her country who have a world ranking.
On the men’s tour, Greek Next Gen star Stefanos Tsitsipas – a former junior No. 1 – is now ranked 82 in the world and together with Sakkari, they are catching the attention of many people back home.
“The sport is growing because of us and it’s really good that we can help on that. We are both happy and we hope we can grow it more,” said Sakkari, who is coached by former Australian Open champion Thomas Johansson.
“We feel proud, because Greeks are patriotic, it’s very important for us and it’s very nice that we can represent our country but on the other hand it’s quite sad that we’re just two players. Hopefully more will come.”
Sakkari spent some time during her offseason last December training in Dubai and admits the hot conditions are quite familiar to her.
“I am used to it. It feels like home, that’s what I was saying when we were flying from Doha to here ‘it’s good to be home’. It’s great, here they have the best conditions to practice, especially at that time of the year when it’s freezing in Europe. We really liked it and we will come back for sure,” she said.
Meanwhile, Tunisian Ons Jabeur fell in her second round of qualifying 6-3, 6-3 to Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko while 2016 Dubai champion Sara Errani advanced to the final round 6-4, 6-4 over American Bernarda Pera. Errani faces Belarusian Aryna Sabalenko on Monday for a spot in the main draw. Italian Camila Giorgi sustained a thigh injury and was forced to retire after taking the opening set 6-4 off of Russian Sofya Zhuk.