Petra Kvitova turned to her team and blew them a kiss, with tears in her eyes, after she completed an emotional 6-3, 6-2 victory over Julia Boserup in the Roland Garros first round on Sunday.
Her team members were all on their feet, dressed in t-shirts that had the words “Courage. Belief. Pojd” printed across. The term ‘pojd’ is the Czech equivalent to ‘Come on’ or ‘Vamos’.
In her first match since early November and since being attacked by a home invader at her apartment last December, Kvitova showed so much heart, the same heart that got her through was has been the toughest period of her life.
“The courage and belief, that’s what I probably had to have in this kind of situation. The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important,” Kvitova said later in her press conference, donning the same t-shirt her team was wearing.
“So that’s why what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”
It is indeed an inspiration.
Monica Puig, who shares an agent with Kvitova, was fighting her way through a three-setter against Roberta Vinci at the same time as the Czech, on the nearby Court 2, and says her mind drifted to Court Philippe Chatrier briefly during her own first round.
“My agent also works with her so I’ve been getting a few updates here and there on how she’s doing. And I was really surprised to see she was coming back so quickly. I was caught off guard, I was like, ‘Wow, she’s already back’. And you can tell by her results in the past that she’s a fighter and things like that won’t knock her down,” said Puig on Sunday.
“So I was playing my match and I heard that she won, because Chatrier is not too far away, and it was really incredible and I was imagining what her reaction must have been like, because to get your first win, especially in a Grand Slam after what happened to her after such a traumatic experience, it’s incredible.
“And I’m really happy for her and I’m glad to see all of the players giving her a warm welcome back because she deserves it and she’s such a great champion and a truly amazing person off the court that she deserves that and more.”
Kvitova impressed in her first match back, hitting 31 winners against 20 unforced errors, and winning 78 per cent of the points on her first serve. She saved all three break points she faced and was 7/8 at the net.
The very first point from the 27-year-old saw her hit a signature forehand winner, which was a surprise even to Kvitova herself.
“I was just with my team, and I was like, ‘uh-oh, the first point was amazing’. I surprised myself like with the forehand winner straightaway. I was like, ‘Oh. It felt weird but great, as well, of course,” she said with a smile.
“I think it wasn’t really about the game. I had big motivation, and I know that I gonna do everything what I can even if I should just run from side to side to win it.
“But, yeah, it felt great. I mean, I felt like I’m still in Wuhan or Zhuhai or whatever (tournament) I last played. So I’m glad it’s still there, still in the mind, still in the hand.
“It’s still a little bit tricky sometimes. I felt few times when the racquet wasn’t really in my hand strongly. But, yeah, the serve, that’s what I felt maybe will be really tough to serve well, but I think if I gonna practice more and my hand will improve will be better and better.”
Kvitova wanted to make it a point to keep her emotions in check during the match, even though she knew that Sunday was not about tennis, but something much bigger.
It was her way of reclaiming what her attacker briefly took away from her, it was the culmination of a brutal six months of surgery, rehab and recover… it was so many things wrapped into one.
“Yesterday I was thinking how everything will be, and I couldn’t really imagine how that’s going to be. I maybe thought that I would cry when I step on the court, but I didn’t today, which actually I was happy, because normally I can control my emotion on the court, so I’m happy that I kind of did it, as well, this time,” she said.
“In the end, I didn’t have to (keep it in) anymore. So, yeah, few tears for after the match point. Of course going as a winner from the centre court was much better than stepping on the court.”
Kvitova explained that she didn’t feel any different during the match compared to her practice sessions in the build-up and that she felt no pain in her hand (the attacker injured all five fingers of her left playing hand with his knife).
“I promised my doctor, who gave me green light, that if I feel pain in my hand during the match or in the practice, I’m stopping immediately. So I’m glad that I didn’t make it,” she said with a smile on Sunday.
The attention has undoubtedly all been on Kvitova since the moment she arrived at Roland Garros, and she expects things to be that way for quite some time. But the two-time Wimbledon champion is not daunted by what’s to come, and says coming to Paris was an important step for her.
“Of course this tournament is special. That’s why I tried to play here. I’m glad that we made this decision. It wasn’t an easy decision to be here and play. I didn’t know how I will be ready,” she added.
“But I think that for all the staff, for the media, for seeing the opponents, the friends and people around, it’s just really important to be here and to have done everything what I need to do to be more relaxed inside and more peace for the next coming tournaments, because I wanted to come back not just to play, but of course I still do have my goals, which I talk about in the end of the last seasons.
“They are still there, so I want to improve my game to play the best and to have some great results.”
Kvitova awaits the winner of the first round between Evgeniya Rodina and Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
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