Petra Kvitova remembers the first time she had to put on a gown, make-up and heels, and head to a tennis function. It was the night after she won her first Wimbledon title in 2011 and she was off to attend the Champions’ Ball.
“Everything was new,” Kvitova told Sport360 ahead of her opening match at Wimbledon on Tuesday against Romanian Sorana Cirstea.
“And when I look at the picture from that day now, it’s just so different, I can’t really imagine that I was like that.
“That was kind of my first thing (tennis party) and that time I couldn’t really think about anything. They told me ‘okay you have to be there, blah, blah, blah’ and I said ‘okay’.”
“I was shy and nervous for sure.”
On a scale of 1-10, Kvitova says she considers herself a five in terms of how shy she generally feels off-court.
Yet she certainly seemed at ease fielding questions at the WTA Pre-Wimbledon Party, dressed to the nines in a beautiful red gown, as she spoke about her chances of capturing a third title at the All England Club.
The Czech 2011 and 2014 Wimbledon champion has had a trying 2016, which saw her lose in the Australian Open second round, and French Open third round, with a quarter-final at Indian Wells and a semi-final in Stuttgart counting as her only highlights.
Kvitova parted ways with her long-time coach, David Kotyza, in January, which came as a surprise to many, and after spending some time alone, she hired former doubles specialist Frantisek Cermak in his place.
The 26-year-old briefly dropped outside the top-10 and is seeded 10 at SW19 this fortnight.
Having spent the majority of the past five years hovering around the top-five, did it feel weird having the number 11 next to her name in the past few weeks?
“It is different. I think I’m in a different situation than I was before. I changed a lot of things, I can’t say it was a bad thing, the future will show probably, but it is a different situation definitely but on the other side I think I shouldn’t feel that much pressure as I felt before which I think is a good thing for me for sure,” said Kvitova.
“Of course the seeds are different, because I can play someone really good earlier but I think that if I’m playing really well I don’t care who is on the other side. It’s just about the confidence right now I think.”
Kvitova has struggled with consistency and confidence in the past and this first half of the season has been a prime example of that. When she’s on, she can literally blow anyone off the court, including Serena Williams, but she has also experienced bizarre, almost inexplicable defeats.
Is being able to consistently perform well week in, week out, a main goal for Kvitova?
“I can’t really say goal… I think I’m trying to put some new things to my game, like I’m going serve-and-volley sometimes or go to the net more often or play more drop shots or slice,” she explains.
“I’m trying to put things in my game to add variety to it and I think it’s paying off so far, I just need time to put everything together to be in a great position but it’s always about time.
“Consistency of course it’s coming with that, with the confidence of winning matches and everything. I really want to improve my serve as I showed in Eastbourne (last week) as well and just play the aggressive game I had when I was younger.”
Kvitova was 21 when she won her first major and she needed an adjustment period after that breakthrough, to get accustomed to being in the spotlight and being a favourite.
“I think that I’m not as shy as I was. Probably when I was a child I didn’t know everything that was happening and I couldn’t really speak English as well as I do now so I think that everything is more relaxed for me, the press conferences, I know what to expect and everything,” she says.
“But still kind of on the outside, I will never be that kind of celebrity or whatever. I like to have my private life and be kind of like in the quiet place which I think will never change.
“If I could say something as a young girl, to me, I’d probably say that I shouldn’t really think that much about everything as I’m doing now.”
And is there something she wishes she could get back from her younger days on tour, she feels she is lacking at the moment?
“I feel probably a little bit of free brain. With the age you’re thinking more about everything which is something I didn’t too much when I was younger. So that’s kind of – not like freedom, but not taking everything too serious,” she adds with a laugh.
Kvitova’s preparation for Wimbledon saw her win one match in Birmingham, and one match in Eastbourne, before falling in the last 16 in both events. In Eastbourne last week, she had her right thigh taped.
“I feel a little better. It’s kind of tight, that’s how it always gets on grass after a few matches – actually from the first one I played, so the tape is there to protect it and of course I have to take care of it, not to make it worse,” she explained.
Kotzya, Kvitova’s ex-coach, now works with former world No1 Caroline Wozniacki, who spent the past several months injured before returning to action this grass season. Although she is yet to hit her best form since her split with Kotyza, Kvitova is certain she made the right calls.
“I just wanted to do something new, I just felt that I was kind of on the same way and I couldn’t do anything more, so that’s why I changed it, and I feel good now and I’m really happy with everything I did,” said Kvitova.
“I know how David is a great coach and a great person and we’re still very well connected even though he’s working with Caroline (Wozniacki) and I’m working with Frantisek (Cermak) but I just think that the relationship is still there. I just feel now a little bit that something new came to my game and to have motivation again and kind of like the passion which I was sometimes missing.”
And has it been weird seeing him part of the Wozniacki camp?
“I thought it would be but when I found out the news I said ‘okay, I know Caro, I know David, and they know each other as well and I really wish them the best,” she responds.
“I saw him in Birmingham and Eastbourne and everything was just fine. Of course it’s sometimes weird when I finish a match and Caroline was warming up with David, so it was a little bit weird but on the other side it’s good that he stayed in the game and he’s still doing what he loves.”
Petra Kvitova attended the WTA Pre-Wimbledon Party presented by Dubai Duty Free at The Roof Gardens, Kensington