Petra Kvitova in Paris: I already won my biggest fight

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Born fighter: Petra Kvitova.

PARIS — Petra Kvitova did not cry when she addressed the press at Roland Garros on Friday but her eyes were full of tears.

Six months on from being attacked by a knife-wielding intruder at her home in the Czech Republic, Kvitova made a surprise last-minute decision to play the French Open thanks to a faster-than-expected recovery.

“Nobody knew if this day would come,” Kvitova told reporters in Paris on Friday ahead of her first round against Julia Boserup.

“I’m really happy that really here, the dream comes true. I’m here in the draw and I’m playing tennis again, and was a difficult time for me, of course. It wasn’t easy, but I’m happy that I work through this and I can play tennis and I can be in the draw.

“I know that my hand, it’s not perfectly ready. It’s still not 100 per cent ready, so we will see how everything goes, but I’m happy that I am able to play again.”

While fighting off the intruder, the two-time Wimbledon champion sustained injuries to all five fingers of her left playing hand and her doctor said the chances of her playing tennis again were “very low”.

“The injury was horrific,” said Kvitova’s doctor Radek Kebrle. “The chances of Petra’s hand healing well enough for her to be able to play tennis again were very low for multiple reasons.”

She had surgery on December 20, 2016 and had her hand in a protective splint for eight weeks. She started her rehab from the second day after her operation, making small movements with her fingers, which she couldn’t move fully.

“Every kind of small millimetre made me happy,” she recalls.

She held a tennis racquet for the first time at the end of March, hitting soft balls – it felt “very very weird” Kvitova says, and began practicing on clay in Monaco at the beginning of May.

The 27-year-old returns to the tour with a new perspective on life and a renewed love for the sport after going through the toughest challenge of her career.

“It was difficult. I mean, not many people believed that I can play tennis again,” said Kvitova. “So I’m happy that I can play. I actually already won my biggest fight.

“I’m happy that I like challenges. That was one of the biggest, of course. So I stayed alive and I have all my fingers, I can play tennis and I can be here and be in the draw.

“And I’m really looking forward for my match which – when I watch some of the, I can’t say matches, but I saw something on the TV, I didn’t really feel great. I felt like the tennis was taken away from me, and it wasn’t my decision. Suddenly I couldn’t do what I love. So I’m happy that I can be here and enjoy the tennis.”

What happened to Kvitova was a traumatic experience – one that she continues to deal with emotionally.

“I didn’t sleep well the days after, but I wasn’t really staying alone. I have been always with my family or with my coaches or with friends, which I need to say thank you to them, because they were really incredible, and they still are. So I’m happy that I have them,” she says.

“I don’t really have nightmares. From the beginning I was feeling really weird when I went in the city or somewhere. I was always staring to the guys and looking if there are no strangers there. But with the time, it’s better. But of course I’m more, how do you say, more actively watching the people around me.

“I see life a little bit from the different angle. So I’m happy that I’m here.”

Kvitova's injury

  • All five fingers were injured
  • It was a clean cut injury
  • Only two fingers suffered nerve damage
  • Surgery lasted 3hrs 45 mins

Kvitova’s change in perspective meant that she realised how much she loved the sport, but also that it is only just a sport.

“I mean, sometimes when I don’t put a ball inside the court, I’m not crying,” she joked with a laugh.

“Now I can just enjoy everything and even – it’s beautiful weather outside. Sometimes I just stand outside and see the sun and say ‘Oh, it’s beautiful’. I see different kind of things than before.”

Kvitova’s keeping her expectations low and tried to explain the reason behind her decision to play in Paris, rather than wait for the grass season.

“I have to start somewhere,” said with a smile. “I know it’s a Grand Slam, but it’s good practice. But, I mean, for me right now, it’s not like a Grand Slam. It’s something like more. And when I will step on the court will be something really different compared to anything.

“I just took it as experience. You know, to be sitting at home and know that I can play but I’m not here and just will be practicing for two weeks will be not really the best option for me. I love to play matches instead of practicing. So I’m here and I will try to do my best, of course, in the match, as well, but from a little bit different angle.”

Kvitova hired a new coach, Jiri Vanek, last December. Right now, they’re not working on anything particular in her game, and are keeping things simple.

“We are just, you know, trying to hit as much as I can, to play fast, and that’s it,” she said.

“It’s not really easy time for my coach right now. But hopefully he will have some good time with me to practice what he wants. But just now, it’s really the basic stuff.”

Vanek, the former coach of Kvitova’s compatriot Karolina Pliskova, admits it’s been a tough period for the team, but that staying positive was key.

“I have to say that I’m happy I could help Petra in this tricky situation,” said Vanek.

“It was really tough for all of us but Petra stayed strong. The first few months were the worst because we didn’t know how the hand would respond to work, but we were positive. When we couldn’t do anything with the hand, David (Vydra, fitness coach) did a lot of work on her fitness.

“When she was able to hold something, we started to hold glasses, soft balls, just gripping them. Then we started to hold the racquet, from the beginning it was just for one minute and then we started to build up the time.

“We played with very soft balls from the net and then tried to move further and further back, closer to the baseline. Before she could grip the racquet we played with her right hand, we also played other sports like table tennis and badminton with her right hand. Then we started with backhands because the forehand was too difficult, serve too.

“I was surprised by how well she responded and how motivated she was to come back. Her motivation was and although it was a tough experience, Petra was always inspired by the challenge of playing again.”

There’s been an outpour of love and support from the locker room towards Kvitova – who is known to be one of the nicest players on tour.

Simona Halep was one of the players to comment on her return yesterday, saying: “What happened was really, really tough. But she’s strong enough, so she came back fast. I wish her all the best, and to enjoy the time on court. I know that she’s very happy now.

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Reem's Roland Garros diary: Kvitova returns, Djokovic and Agassi steal the show

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Dream duo: Agassi and Djokovic (Photo via @djokernole on Twitter)

Paris — I touched down in Paris today (Thursday) for the French Open and headed straight to Roland Garros as soon as I landed.

I always arrive at the Slams on the Thursday before the action starts to catch some qualies, make sure I’m here for media day – held on Friday at the French Open – and attend some practices to get an idea of what kind of shape the players are in.

Unfortunately my 1:30pm arrival to Paris meant that I missed two of the most special moments of the day – the return of Petra Kvitova and the first sighting of Andre Agassi and Novak Djokovic working together on court.

Kvitova, who was attacked by a knife-wielding intruder in her apartment last December, practiced yesterday in Paris and will reveal in a press conference here on Friday whether she will compete at Roland Garros or not. Kvitova’s recovery has gone faster than expected and even if she doesn’t play the French Open, it’s just amazing seeing her hitting again.

The two-time Wimbledon champion was all smiles during her practice session with Safarova on Thursday, under the watchful eye of her coach Jiri Vanek.

Meanwhile, journalists and fans gathered at Court 5 to watch Djokovic and Agassi step on court together for the first time in Paris. With 20 Grand Slam titles between them, the powerhouse duo were the centre of attention and I must say I still can’t believe we’re going to be having Agassi around again for a little while.

(Photo via @rolandgarros on Twitter)

(Photo via @rolandgarros on Twitter)

Kvitova was not the only player making a long-awaited appearance. Aussie youngster Thanasi Kokkinakis, who hasn’t played a major since the 2015 US Open having struggled with a series of injuries, was in good spirits on Thursday as he hit the practice courts. He’ll be playing in the main draw thanks to a protected ranking.

I watched Rafael Nadal practice with Jack Sock on Court Philippe Chatrier for a good two hours where the nine-time Roland Garros champion was pummeling the ball with so much gusto, I half wished he saved some of it for the actual tournament.

Both players then filmed a promotional video with their common Babolat court-side.

Meanwhile in qualies, Tunisian Ons Jabeur is just one win away from her first Roland Garros main draw after she dismissed Viktoria Kamenskaya 7-6 (2), 6-1. She faces Japan’s Miyu Kato on Friday in the final round of qualifying.

“Roland-Garros is a place where I have a lot of memories from playing in the juniors, and it’s amazing to win – especially with so many Tunisians who have come here to support me. I hope to continue and play even better tomorrow,” Jabeur told RolandGarros.com – referring to her 2011 French Open girls’ title triumph.

18-year-old Greek Stefanos Tsitsipas (ATP No202), who was junior world No1 this time last year, qualified for his first Grand Slam main draw with wins over Thomas Fabbiano, Gleb Sakharov, and Oscar Otte.

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