Saturday, 24 February 2018

On Petra Kvitova's Greatness

The trademark scream of Petra Kvitova rings out across center court in Doha as she wins a critical point in the final of the tournament against former world number one and reigning Wimbledon champion GarbiƱe Muguruza. Roughly translating from Czech as "Come On!" it's a sure sign that both her head and heart are now firmly engaged in the contest. After starting the match 0-5 she has fought all the way back to tie it at a set a piece and is poised to take control. Her greatest comeback though was made last year.

On 20 December 2016, Kvitova was assaulted in her home by an intruder posing as a utility worker who placed a knife at her throat. Instinctively reaching up with her left hand - her racket hand - she grabbed the blade in an ultimately successful attempt to fight off and drive away her attacker but sustained severe wounds to all five of her fingers. Four hours of emergency surgery followed, nerves and tendons sewn back together. She spent two months with her hand in a splint and many experts feared she would never be able to play tennis at a competitive level again.

Flash forward to the present where she has won thirteen straight matches and back to back titles in St Petersburg and Doha, dispatching six top ten ranked opponents along the way. As of today on SkyBet she is the second favorite behind the always overpriced Serena Williams t add a third Wimbledon championship to her collection this summer. The will involved is remarkable and really comes from a very simple place.

Love of life and of the game she plays propelled her on her course to recovery. In an era of grievance she declared just days after the attack that she did not see herself as a victim. “I do not feel sorry for myself and I will not look backwards". It's human nature to dwell on traumas and mistakes past but time spent worrying about things that can't be changed makes it difficult to heal.

That attitude has reinforced itself on the court in her 'second career'. Error riddled first sets against Muguruza and Caroline Wozniacki were quickly forgotten as she powered her way through to the victorious end in Doha. Speaking before the first match of her comeback in 2017 she explained, “Sometimes when I miss a ball now I don’t cry. I missed being on the court. I missed the fight. Now I can just enjoy everything. Sometimes I just stand outside and see the sun and say ‘Oh, it's beautiful.’ I see different kinds of things than I did before.”

Colin Cowherd often likes to say that great people are self motivated - the idea being if you need someone else to motivate you, you could be good, you could be very good but you'll never be great. In a sense it's a fairly pessimistic view but there is a quality about Kvitova that certainly elevates her. "I like challenges and this has been one of the biggest, of course. I stayed alive, I have all my fingers and I can play tennis." She was a champion long before the incident. Now I believe we can call her a legend.

One of the things that feeds her greatness is how uncomplicated her outlook is. Asked about how she would beat fellow bomber Jelena Ostapenko she replied she would have to be "even more aggressive and hit the ball harder". While other athletes concern themselves with frivolities and image, Kvitova's goals are far clearer and more pure in intent. "This is what I fought so hard to come back and play tennis for. I always said that I'm not here just to play tennis; I'm here to play my best and to win trophies".

One of the things I often harp on is how insane it is for anyone to idolising an athlete or other celebrity. This rose to farcical levels with the article revealing the fraud behind Darko Grncarov, a "player" praised and followed by many for his social media posts. Subsequently, rabid fans of Serena Williams accused the author of the piece Ben Rothenberg of holding a vendetta against the Williams sisters and only pursuing the story because it painted her in a bad light. I really believe worshipping celebrities damages your brain. If you're a doctor or medical researcher, please start a study on this.

It's reasonable though to have deep admiration for certain people though - and in some cases more than others. Asked how she had managed to win thirteen consecutive matches, claim her second straight title and beaten four of the world's top ten players on her way to a championship in Doha she answered, “I don’t know. I just... tried?". That's all anyone expects. No complaints and no hubris. Just try your best in life.

It's an approach to existence that has seen her win five straight - six in the last seven years - WTA Karen Krantzcke Sportsmanship Awards, a peer voted honor. A champion in all aspects. “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.”

Courage, Belief and Pojd. Petra Kvitova, I'm honored to be your fan.

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