/ 28 June 2012

Kvitova’s crying game

Wimbledon winner: A moment of triumph — and tears — for Petra Kvitova last year.
Wimbledon winner: A moment of triumph — and tears — for Petra Kvitova last year.

‘After I won Wimbledon last year you saw how my father was crying,” Petra Kvitova said, her eyes widening at the memory of a deeply personal moment.

Throughout last year’s final against Maria Sharapova, Kvitova’s father, Jiri, was a man consumed. Whenever she won a crucial point he shuddered with delight, while a heavily mulleted family friend bellowed like an old seal as he exchanged double high-fives with her two older brothers. There were times when Jiri looked as if he might catch fire amid such searing passion.

“He was a little crazy,” Kvitova said, laughing, “and for me it was a little funny. The tears were the most funny. Normally, when I was a kid, he showed no emotion. And now he was crying …”

Kvitova paused and then, with comic timing, said coolly: “A lot! He was crying on court. He was crying for an hour after the match was over. When I have a good result now, he is like that. But he wasn’t always the same.”

Wimbledon began on Monday and Kvitova’s defence of her title, especially against Sharapova, the new world number one and French Open champion, will test a belief that the 22-year-old Czech will eventually emerge as a dominant force. It is striking that Martina Navratilova, born in Czechoslovakia and Kvitova’s inspiration, insists that the young woman from the small town of Fulnek will become a great of the women’s game.

Illuminating account

Yet, before she relived her emotional visit to Wimbledon with Navratilova, Kvitova offered an illuminating account of her relationship with her father and their stark past. “I will always be the little sister,” she said, “because my one brother is 36 this year and the other is 33. My father was their coach and they tried to play well, but it was hard because my family did not have much money. We didn’t have a car so they had to travel by train – and it wasn’t really possible for them to think of a nice future in tennis.

“I practised with my father until I was 16 in Fulnek. Sometimes it was tough. I couldn’t go out with my friends because I had to practise. He knew what young kids do. In Fulnek there is nothing there. We have four tennis courts, a castle and a sports centre. I played volleyball until I was 11, but my friends were just walking through the streets, maybe smoking a cigarette. He was a teacher and so he was maybe afraid about this.

“It was a really hard time for me when I was 15 or 16. With my father I didn’t have a very good relationship because of tennis. When we were at home we were still talking about the tennis and it was too much. It wasn’t much good for us. And I didn’t want to continue with the tennis.”

Was she simply fed up with her father controlling her life? “It was hard, but I’m not really a party person. So for me it was okay and I did get out sometimes with my friends. Just never in the week, because I didn’t have time. But we were maybe too close with the tennis, me and my father. He didn’t make the lives of my brothers and me very easy. He pushed us very hard, but that’s why I am where I am now.”

How is her current relationship with her dad? “Good,” Kvitova said. “For my parents a lot has changed. They have three children with their own lives and they now have more money so they can relax and not be afraid. So for them it’s a much easier life. I know how proud and relaxed they are. Two years ago they were still worried, asking what’s happening, how are you? So it gives me pleasure to make them happy.

Great atmosphere

“But my dad has big passion. For the Federation Cup [when the Czech Republic defeated Italy 4-1 in Ostrava in May] he ordered 140 tickets. It was a great atmosphere and lots of people came to watch me from Fulnek. I was nervous, but I was happy how it turned out.”

In contrast to her combustible father, Kvitova’s mother is “much more calm. I have taken that from her. I have that same calm inside me.”

This serene assurance has often distinguished her play on grass. “The first time I played on grass, at Roehampton, I won a junior tournament. It was terrible. It was raining all the time, but I stayed calm. There was so much rain that, when we started playing at last, we had sets of four games. The scores would be like 4-3, 4-1.

“I stayed at the university [campus] and there was just one bed in a small room. It was not so good.” Kvitova laughed at the memory. “And then, at my first two [senior] Wimbledons, I didn’t get good results. But then, in 2010, everything changed.”

She made her breakthrough at Wimbledon when, ranked outside the top 30, Kvitova surprisingly reached the semifinals. She lost in straight sets to Serena Williams, but Kvitova was galvanised. “I was young and didn’t have much experience. I just went there to enjoy it and after that semifinal I knew I could do well at Wimbledon. It is my favourite tournament and I had confidence then.

“Last year the whole tournament went well. In the semis I played [Victoria] Azarenka and I had just beaten her in Madrid. I was nervous before the match but I was fine on the court. I was feeling the shots and I was calm. I think she played very well, but I did better in the third set.And then the final …”

Momentous event

Kvitova looked thoughtful as she recalled her emotions before that momentous event. “The night before Sharapova I was okay. I slept well and I was thinking how it will be and what I needed to do. But it was strange just before the match. We had to wait alone. It was terrible. I was too nervous. But once I was on court I was okay. On the inside I was calm. Even on match point I was calm.”

She shrugged in amusement. “Maybe because I had three match points I could stay calm. I won the first one.”

How did she celebrate? “I went to our house where we were staying in Southfields. We had champagne but I didn’t drink a lot. I had one glass. I was so tired. So I had to go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep so well. Everything was going round in my mind but they were happy thoughts. It was my first grand slam and it was Wimbledon. Everyone wants to win Wimbledon.”

Surprisingly, Kvitova lost last week in the first round at Eastbourne. But, as the world number four and reigning champion, she expects to mount a formidable defence of her Wimbledon title. “For sure, Sharapova [who defeated Kvitova in the semifinals of the Australian and French Opens this year] is hard to beat. Anyone in the top 10 has a chance, but I think I will be okay.”

Chilled heart

She smiled sweetly and soon moved on to describe her visit to Wimbledon with Navratilova in the chilled heart of an English winter. “It was very special, just me and Martina. As we walked around we spoke in Czech. She told me very nice stories about her experiences – and she had a lot because she won nine [singles] titles there. She was my idol when I was growing up. I loved her because she was also a leftie. Not many leftie women have won Wimbledon. So we walked around Wimbledon and it was empty. It was strange that no one was there and no nets were on the courts. But on the board was my score against Sharapova. Then Martina led me to the honours board. I looked up. My name is there once. Martina’s name is there nine times.”

How did she feel when Navratilova picked her out as the next supreme champion in women’s tennis? “It was very good. I hope I can do what she says, because she is a big fan of me and it is great to have her support. But, still, it is only words. I came close to being number one earlier this year, but Sharapova is playing very well now. It’s a nice position for her to be number one, but it’s a small goal. For me it’s much better to win a grand slam. And there is a lot of work before I do that again.”

Eight out of the top 100 women in the world are Czech and Kvitova seemed unsurprised. “We have something inside that makes us want to be better. It makes us work harder. Maybe it’s because our parents had a harsh life before us.

“I know my own father was tough, but he helped me a lot. And now it feels good that he can cry with happiness. It is strange, but good.” – © Guardian News & Media 2012