Tennis players are on the receiving end of lots of criticism throughout their careers. They’re told they are not strong enough, not fast enough, not mentally tough enough…
For Petra Kvitova, the Czech left-hander, it was a case of being told, while growing up, that she was too nice to be a tennis star. Little did they know that the nice girl from Bilovec – a small town outside Fulnek in the east of the Czech Republic – would become Wimbledon champion with one of the most powerful games on tour.
A quick glance at her third-set tie-break win over Venus Williams in a very vocal second round in Doha last week reveals a fierce competitor willing to snatch victory from the teeth of her opponent. After all, Kvitova was down 1-4 in the final set before she successfully turned things around.
The last adjective Williams would use to describe the world No6 last week is “nice”.
But Kvitova insists she is both a good-natured, quiet person off the court and a ruthless power-hitter on it.
“When I was playing tennis as a child, I was 15, 16, and everybody told me and my father that I’m too nice for the tennis,” Kvitova told Sport360° ahead of her trip to Dubai, where she is defending her crown.
“It’s weird but always when I step on the court, I’m not like angry at the opponent or something, but I just really want to win. It’s something that you have inside, the motivation, the fight, and you are trying to never give up. I think that in me, as a person, there’s totally different two sides but the way I see it, it’s working.”
It certainly is. At 23 years of age, Kvitova has picked up 11 titles – including a Grand Slam, has led the Czech team twice to Fed Cup titles in 2011 and 2012, and has finished each of the last three seasons ranked inside the world’s top eight.
But things have been far from plain sailing for Kvitova on tour.
As an asthmatic, she often suffers from breathing problems while playing in certain locations, and she’s also had her fair share of mental lapses on court – most recently in Melbourne, where she crashed out of the Australian Open in the first round to the unheralded Luksika Kumkhum, a Thai player ranked No88 at the time.
“After my loss in Australia, it was really tough to get over the match. I had big expectations of my Australian Open and always when I have expectations I always play badly,” Kvitova admitted.
“So I know that [in the future] I will have to be more relaxed.
“Then I went home, I was practicing and I asked for wildcard in Paris but I was sick so I pulled out and I couldn’t play Fed Cup as well, so now I’m watching the live score which is really weird because it’s the first time I don’t play Fed Cup. For me it’s very hard.
“Now I came here [to the Middle East] and I’m quite healthy. Of course I lost some fitness when I didn’t play, I have a bit of a cold but it’s normal.”
Still in search for that elusive second Grand Slam, Kvitova can find some inspiration from Li Na’s Australian Open triumph in Melbourne last month. Like Kvitova, the Chinese had won her first major in 2011, and it took Li Na a further two-and-a-half years to silence her doubters and pick up another Grand Slam trophy.
When asked whether she looks at the achievements of other players like Li Na to draw inspiration and motivation for herself, Kvitova said: “I do. I probably more like seeing the players who have good friendships with me and Li Na is great. I like her so much so I was really happy for her that she won.
“We both won a Grand Slam in 2011 so for me it’s nice to see her winning again and maybe for me it can give me some new motivation and I can still do it. She is a little bit older than me but she’s great and we can see how the hard work is helping on the court.”
It’s a fact that the average age of players at the top of the sport has been increasing, and many players like Serena Williams and Li Na, who are in their 30s, have been enjoying lots of success recently. Venus is 10 years older than Kvitova and the American pushed her all the way to a final set tiebreak in both of their last two meetings.
Kvitova’s boyfriend, Radek Stepanek, is 35 and remains a top- 50 player competing on the ATP World Tour. So does she see herself playing into her 30s?
“Now it’s quite easy to say ‘no’. But I can imagine when I’m 30 and just say ‘no I don’t want to continue anymore’ I think it’s going to be a tough decision and I can imagine that I’m going to be maybe same as Venus, because I like to play and it’s going to be hard to say no. I totally understand her but who knows how it’s going to be with me,” she says.
Reached the fourth round of Roland Garros on her Grand Slam main draw debut 2009 Won first WTA title in Hobart.
Reached the fourth round of the US Open upsetting the then world No1 Dinara Safina en route
Made her first Grand Slam semi-final at Wimbledon, lost to Serena Williams.
Was named WTA Newcomer of the Year
Won her first and only Grand Slam title at Wimbledon
Became the first Grand Slam tournament winner, male or female, to be born in the 1990s
Reached a career-high ranking of No2 in October
Won the WTA year-end Championships and the Fed Cup
Made the fourth round or better in all four majors, including semi-finals in Melbourne and Paris
Won the Fed Cup for a second straight year
Won two titles in Dubai and Tokyo
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Reem Abdulleil looks at the women who will be hoping to be in contention come the end of this week in Dubai as well as those who might cause an upset at this year's Championships.
Jelena Jankovic (SRB) (above)
WTA Ranking: 8
Best result in Dubai: Finalist 2005
Serena Williams (USA)
WTA Ranking: 1
Best result in Dubai: Semi-finalist 2005, 2009
The world No1 will be looking to win a maiden title in Dubai in her first tournament since her fourth round loss in Melbourne last month. She will be testing her back, which has been injured since the Australian Open, hoping to get some matches in before Miami next month. With huge serves and an aggressive style, Williams is always a crowd pleaser.
In numbers: 80 – aces hit by Serena this season in just 2 tournaments, 17 – Grand Slam singles titles won by Serena, the 1st coming in 1999
Petra Kvitova (CZE)
WTA Ranking: 6
Best result in Dubai: Winner 2013
The defending champion suffered a shock first round defeat to the unheralded Luksika Kumkhum at the Australian Open last month and pulled out of the Paris Open soon after, citing respiratory problems. The former Wimbledon champion will be looking to get back on track and keeping her Dubai crown will go a long way in restoring her confidence.
In numbers: 7 – straight slams without advancing past the 1/4 finals, 11 WTA titles on her resume including 1 Grand Slam
Anna Ivanovic (SRB)
WTA Ranking: 12
Best result in Dubai: Quarter-finalist 2008, 2009, 2012
Has had a great start to 2014, capturing the title in Auckland and making the quarters in Melbourne, beating Serena Williams en route. She is yet to replicate the form that saw her win the French Open back in 2008 but her new all-Serbian team, comprising coach Nemanja Kontic, fitness coach Zlatko Novkovic and physio Branko Penic, seems to be giving her the boost she needs.
In numbers: 2 – 1/4 finals reached in her last 23 Grand Slams, 12 WTA titles amassed in her career
Agnieszka Radwanska (POL)
WTA Ranking: 4
Best result in Dubai: Winner 2012
Has made the quarter-finals or better on her last four trips to Dubai. Will be the second seed behind Serena Williams and reached the semi-finals in Doha last week. Lost heavily to Dominika Cibulkova in the Australian Open semifinals last month and is yet to make a second Grand Slam final since she finished runner-up at Wimbledon in 2012.
In numbers: 13 – WTA titles won including 10 on hard courts, 73 – per cent winning record in Grand Slams
Venus Williams (USA)
WTA Ranking: 48
Best result in Dubai: Winner 2009, 2010
The American has not played in Dubai since she defended her title in 2010, which means she is on a 10-match winning streak in the Emirates. She lost a great three-setter against Kvitova last week and appears to be in good form.
Sorana Cirstea (ROU)
WTA Ranking: 26
Best result in Dubai: Second round 2013
The Romanian big-hitter should be well-suited to the fast courts in Dubai. She had a bad start to 2014, losing her first three matches but she recovered to make the quarters in Pattaya. Often suffers from slow starts in her matches.
With the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships getting underway this afetrnoon, we take a look at the first-round matches to look out for with our tennis expert Reem Abulleil sharing her predictions for the stand out opening ties.
Only in Dubai would a world No9 take on a world No12 in the first round. Kerber is coming off two big wins in the Fed Cup followed by a very strong week in Doha. Ivanovic had a good start to 2014 but lost in the Doha second round last week to Klara Zakopalova. Fatigue might play a factor, with Kerber already playing her seventh event of the year.
Verdict: Ivanovic in three.
Another first round between two high-ranked players (world No11 v world No15). Lisicki pulled out of Doha last week with a shoulder injury, while Wozniacki lost her opener to Yanina Wickmayer there. Both will be looking to get some confidence. Lisicki hasn’t won back-to-back matches this year, Wozniacki, the 2011 champion, leads Lisicki 3-2 head-to-head.
Stephens is yet to win a main draw match in the Middle East in three previous showings. Safarova won a Fed Cup tie, flew to Doha and had two impressive three-set wins before losing to Kvitova in three.
Verdict: Stephens in three.