For a while it looked like Petra Kvitova, who joined Tsvetana Pironkova as an improbable semifinalist at Wimbledon last year, was destined to be a one-Slam wonder. The tall, shrieking Czech couldn't buy a win thereafter, beaten five straight times in the immediate aftermath of the grass-court swing.
But as it's turning out Kvitova is no Pironkova, who's still slumping, overcoming her dip to move into the elite -- albeit unstable, at the moment -- top 10 thanks to winning the second-biggest clay-court tournament on the calendar, the Madrid Open. Kvitova and her victim in the final, Victoria Azarenka, are the only two players in that group who are playing well enough now to win the French Open, which is quickly approaching.
Caroline Wozniacki, largely, still has to hope that heavy hitters miss against her, which didn't happen in Stuttgart and Madrid courtesy of Julia Goerges. Vera Zvonareva's best surface isn't clay, while last year's French Open finalists, Francesca Schiavone and Samantha Stosur, are yearning for last year. Even if Kim Clijsters recovers in time from an ankle injury, no prep and lack of match practice aren't a good combo for the reigning U.S. and Australian Open winner.
There must be something in the voda in Prostejov, east of Prague, where Tomas Berdych, Lucie Safarova and Kvitova train, because they're three of the purest ball-strikers around. Kvitova is even more powerful than Safarova and has some variety, which was displayed throughout Madrid. While Safarova took a set off Azarenka in Friday's quarterfinals, Kvitova went one better.
Simply put, Kvitova, shy in press conferences, struggled after Wimbledon because expectations were heightened. Then, this season, following a sizzling 11-1 start, she proceeded to lose four of the next five, flopping at the jewels of Indian Wells and Miami.
The 21-year-old will be under more pressure, and scrutiny, at Roland Garros, and two of last season's clay-court winners at important tournaments, Martinez Sanchez and Aravane Rezai, couldn't produce in Paris. Kvitova is a cut above the pair and figures to be in the upper echelon for years, but mentally, unlike, oh, Wozniacki, the book is still out.
We should get a good indication of where Kvitova's head is this week. As the top seed and overwhelming favorite at an ITF stop in Prague, not Rome, she'll be expected to blitz the field.