The physical aspect of rehabilitation comes easily to Kvitova, even when it's painful. She amasses a collection of splints, some to extend her damaged fingers, others to help them bend. She has a ravenous desire to hold a racket again, even if she can't fully feel it, even though she will have to start out by hitting foam balls, like a kid in a beginner's class.
Intermittent flashbacks and anxiety are more problematic. She works with a mental coach who urges her to channel her mind toward the small accomplishments of each day and week, to steer her mind's eye toward cheerful images of her nieces and nephew.
But there are some situations she has to confront by herself. Three weeks after surgery, she walks into an empty shower stall at the Sparta Prague club after working out on a stationary bike, hyperaware of her surroundings. "I didn't think too much about the past,'' she says with remembered enthusiasm. "I was very happy about that.'' It will be a couple of months before she's willing to rent her own flat in Prague.
It isn't the reboot Kvitova once envisioned for the 2017 season, when she'd intended to rebuild momentum and mount a campaign for another major.
Kvitova's serve, powerful forehand, variety and timing are among the best in tennis, but her high-risk game requires an intensity that she has sometimes struggled to maintain in the seasons following her second Wimbledon title. Her nickname of "P3tra,'' referring to her tendency to play three-set matches, encapsulates her ability to dig herself out of competitive trouble she would rather avoid.
She changes coaches early in the 2016 season and splits up with her fiancé, pro hockey player Radek Meidl, the latest in a string of high-profile companions including fellow tennis players Adam Pavlasek and Radek Stepanek. Weeks before the attack, she makes another shift, hiring former ATP pro Jiri Vanek and telling him, "I want to be No. 1, I want to win one more Grand Slam, I want to do it, I feel it inside," Vanek recalls. He is impressed by her ambition, but then a stress fracture sidelines her. The violent knife attack catapults them into crisis before they've had a single formal practice together.
"I couldn't stay by myself,'' Kvitova says. Her voice wobbles slightly. "I needed help, to be honest. I am independent, and suddenly I couldn't do anything.''
Kvitova is afraid to go out alone. She can't drive with her hand immobilized, and she doesn't want to hire a bodyguard. "I'm a private, quiet person,'' she says. "It would be terrible to ask someone to go with me to the dinner and stay three tables away." Instead, her coaches become her de facto security detail. She moves in with Vanek and his family in Prague. Her coach and fitness trainer take turns ferrying her to Kebrle's office.
The muscular, animated Vydra, a former pro triathlete, chokes up when he talks about that time. "The first question was, will she ever play tennis again?" he says through an interpreter. "I said I am 100 percent sure that she will. She trusted me, so she then put all into it, that she would return." He tells her he spoke from authority, having survived a brain aneurysm: "I know even if you are totally dead and you are feeling like you can't do this, if you have a strong head, you can force yourself to get up and to do it."
After three months, Kvitova is allowed to pick up a racket. Her grip closes around its familiar contours over the next few weeks in a gradual handshake, reacquainting itself.
A French hand specialist, Dominique Thomas, treats her twice at his clinic in Grenoble with aggressive electro-stimulation therapy. It accelerates her healing, and as Kvitova's optimism grows, she is diligent to a fault. She overworks the hand, and it swells up again. Kebrle is concerned about the index finger. If it remains inflexible because of scar tissue, he might have to perform another surgery that will set her back weeks.
One day, she hears the finger click and finds she can bend it. Kebrle tells her the worst of the adhesions has freed up at last, confirming that holding the racket is actually the best therapy of all. "Once she started playing tennis, you could see it from week to week, that her function has increased, and it started to work as a normal hand,'' he says.
Her progress is kept strictly under wraps as she trains in the Canary Islands and Monaco. She sends video clips of practice to her doctors and her agents, and one day, she sends a photo with a caption noting a small off-court victory: "I'm holding a wine glass.''
"All the way through, she was saying, 'This is gonna be a challenge, but I love challenges,'" Spellman says. "Maybe nothing else would have given her that motivation -- if it had just been an injury. It gave her the inner strength to want to prove she could do it.''
By mid-April 2017, Kvitova decides she will try to play at Roland Garros, a month before the doctors initially thought was possible. Her public comeback begins in the interview room in Paris, a session she rehearses with Spellman, trying to anticipate the questions reporters will ask, strategizing what to do if she cries. The lights over the dais make her sweat, but she doesn't wilt or break down. "I felt like the tennis was taken away from me, and it wasn't my decision,'' she says. "Suddenly I couldn't do what I love. I see a little bit from the different angle. So I'm happy that I'm here."
Tennis people are welcoming and kind, but they are also unsure how to react, casting covert glances at her hand. She understands why. "I saw people very happy to see me back,'' she says. "Then I felt sometimes they were curious how my hand was, but they didn't ask. Uncomfortable. But I think I will be the same as they were.''
Only Boris Becker, on site as a Eurosport television analyst, asks her about it directly. Kvitova does a credible impersonation of his voice: "Petra, show me your hand.'' She turns it over to display her palm. He exhales and says, "OK." She walks onto center court with her fingernails painted bright red and wins her first match. She loses in the next round, but she has cleared the most important hurdle.
Kvitova defies the odds again the next month, knitting together a week's worth of matches on grass to win the Birmingham title in late June. She doesn't even look surprised when she beats Ashleigh Barty in the final, though she will later say she was awash in disbelief. She turns to Vanek and Vydra in the stands after receiving the trophy and says, in Czech, "Is this normal?'' It's an inside joke in her camp, an acknowledgement that they are on uncharted ground.
She loses in the second round at Wimbledon but feels encouraged when she reaches the U.S. Open quarterfinals and plays Venus Williams toe-to-toe through three sets.
In December 2017, a year after the attack, a Czech publication includes Kvitova and her surgeon in an annual "Czechs of the Year'' photo spread. She is resplendent in a red dress; he is gallantly kissing the left hand he repaired. The image reflects a story moving toward a happy ending, but there's still one critical piece missing.
Based on Kvitova's description, police quickly release a sketch of a suspect in his 30s. A few confirmed details make their way into Czech media reports. Kvitova's name was not on the exterior buzzer panel of the five-story building, whose modest appearance betrayed no hint of a millionaire tennis player in residence. The intruder gained access by posing as a utility worker. She was attacked in her bathroom. He made off with a few hundred dollars.
The authorities characterize the crime as random, but a month later, a police spokesperson uses the term vydírání -- translated as "extortion" or "blackmail'' in English-language reports. Under the Czech penal code, the word can simply mean a forcible, violent act, and it carries a higher possible sentence when grievous bodily harm is inflicted.
In the semantic swirl and the absence of hard information, theories flourish, some fueled by Kvitova's early and successful comeback. Was it really possible that one of the most celebrated athletes in the country could have been an arbitrary target? Were her wounds really that serious? Did police bungle the investigation?
Kebrle gets calls from colleagues asking if the whole thing is an insurance scam. He is unequivocal about the nature of her wounds: "The way it's done, it shows it was a defens[ive] injury. That's the biological reaction of the body. Less for more. I lose my hand, but I will save my life.'' In August 2017, a frustrated Kvitova decides to release the surgeon's graphic before-and-after photos of her hand, shortly before the U.S. Open.
Radio silence persists until November, when another police briefing is held to announce that despite hundreds of interviews, tips and a sizable reward for information, there are no new leads, and the case has been shelved.
Police spokesmen stonewall ESPN's inquiries this spring. A harried but polite receptionist at the Prostejov police station makes phone calls, comes out from behind her desk and explains there is an embargo. Emailed requests to regional authorities in nearby Olomouc get the same answer.
But there is movement behind the scenes. According to recent Czech media accounts, a cold-case unit tackles the case early in the year. On the eve of Roland Garros in late May, an unidentified man is taken into custody. News outlets in the Czech Republic report that he had a criminal past, including being a member of a gang that preyed on elderly people. Kvitova initially identifies him through a photo, and then, after she's finished playing in Paris, returns home and picks him out of a lineup.
"I think I [will] feel relief when everything is done,'' she says after the arrest becomes public knowledge. "Obviously, it's great news so far, but -- when you play, and for example, you have one game to serve for the match, or you have match point -- it's close, but it's still far away. So that's how I feel it.''
Czech law gives authorities wide latitude in holding suspects during investigations, closing hearings and withholding information. Specific charges could come in late July, according to the latest police statement.
Kvitova, who continues to refrain from detailing specifics of the attack or discussing legal aspects of the case, says she will not be afraid if and when the time comes to open up. "I think I will, I can, but I just can't now because of the police,'' she says in Prague this spring. "But I think I am OK to tell it. I don't have anything to hide.''
The numbness the knife left might never completely dissipate. Kvitova has learned to make a celebratory fist with her other hand. She sometimes kneads the fingers of her left hand with her right while she's at rest, trying to coax a little bit more flexibility from them.
"From my view, it's not really improving much, but I think I'm pretty happy with the way it is anyway,'' she says after one of her matches at Roland Garros in May. This is Kvitova's new ordinary. It can be traced back to that long car ride when, with her career in limbo, she seized on what she could do rather than what might be lost.
Wimbledon is almost upon her again. Simply making the trip will not suffice this year, not after a 38-7 season that includes titles on hardcourts, clay and grass, raising her own expectations as high as they've ever been.
"I'm kind of surprised how I handled everything,'' she says. "Obviously, I'm a pretty positive person, but to be positive in this kind of case was just so different. When you lose the match, you can be positive that you have a chance next week. But when I'm going to the hospital without knowing if I can ever have all my fingers back -- of course, I didn't want to think too much how bad it can be.''
Kvitova would not wish what happened to her on anyone, yet the scar tissue that temporarily bound her also led to a profound discovery. The surgeon's skill salvaged her grip, but it was her own handiwork that mattered most in loosening the physical adhesions and conquering the fears that could have held her back. Consider the strength that led her to fight with her dominant hand and then fight for that hand, in the service of an obstinate and ardent notion: No one was going to pry her away from what she loves.
Additional reporting by Max Munson.
Bonnie D. Ford is a senior writer for ESPN.