Petra Kvitova finds her comfort zone
LONDON -- Petra Kvitova's biggest claim to fame, it is often pointed out, is that she is the only Grand Slam champion, male or female, to be born in the 1990s. Which is to say it's easy to miss the point with her.
When Kvitova won the Wimbledon singles title in 2011 in a straight-sets upset over Maria Sharapova, it was Sharapova's loss more than Kvitova's win. That happens when a (then-) three-time Grand Slam champion and former Wimbledon champ goes down.
But the fact that the then-21-year-old from the Czech Republic was playing in her first Grand Slam final just one year after coming into Wimbledon unseeded and winless on grass spoke to her vast potential.
And beating Sharapova set the bar very high indeed for Kvitova.
What has happened since then for Kvitova, who will meet 20-year-old Canadian Eugenie Bouchard on Saturday in the Wimbledon final?
On grass, Kvitova has modeled her game after her idol, compatriot and fellow left-hander Martina Navratilova (the last lefty Wimbledon champ before Kvitova). And Kvitova has continued to show why she is one of the best on the surface, making it to two Wimbledon quarterfinals the past two years and now owning a 35-11 grass-court record (76 percent) overall, third behind Serena Williams and Sharapova. Kvitova has won 25 of her past 28 matches at Wimbledon.
But off the court? A completely different story -- with Kvitova admitting she did not love how her life changed.
"It was everywhere," she said of her new image as Wimbledon champion. "It was a big surprise for me that I [was] really in the newspapers and everything. I didn't know before how it feels. ...
"I mean, it wasn't really easy. For me, it's a new experience. You can read it many, many times, but you never know how it feels. I expect too much from myself after that. I thought that I probably need to win any match I'm going to play after that because I'm Grand Slam champion and everybody [was] expecting from me just the best. It's not all like that."
As the Wimbledon champion, there was also immediate interest in Kvitova's private live, as she broke up with her longtime boyfriend and started dating fellow pro Radek Stepanek, from whom she recently split.
Kvitova said the pressure she felt expended too much mental energy. Like many athletes, she saw a sports psychologist. And she has asked herself why she hasn't done more since Wimbledon 2011, losing in the first round of the US Open that fall, then going only as far as two semifinals (the 2012 Australian and French Opens) in 10 Grand Slams leading into this Wimbledon.
Kvitova ended 2011 ranked No. 2 in the world but elected not to defend points at Brisbane, her only chance at the top ranking, saying she wanted to work on her game. She competed in the Hopman Cup instead that year. She ended 2012 at No. 8 and is now at No. 6.
"I think these three years was really up and down during the season," she said. 'I knew that a lot of people are expecting from me something more than I did probably. But on the other side, I was still in the top 10, and I did everything that I could. I was practicing very hard and everything. But it's never easy with these girls obviously.
"[There] was a lot of positive things I got, but definitely when I won here in 2011, I needed to change a little bit [of] myself on the court and off the court, as well, to [get] used to the pressure, media and everything like that."
Against Bouchard, Kvitova will be facing a player much like herself in 2011 -- young, a little cocky and loose. Kvitova said she is not anticipating the sort of meltdown that last year's finalist Sabine Lisicki experienced in her one-sided loss to Marion Bartoli, and she is wise not to expect it.
It is unlikely either Kvitova or her opponent will cower Saturday, and not just because Kvitova is 6 feet tall and Bouchard 5-10.
"I'm just focusing that she [is] going to play her best tennis, definitely," Kvitova said. "I don't think it's going to be something easy. I didn't see final of last year so I don't really know what happened there, but I'm ready for what's going to be. I hope it's going to be great match."
One thing that is certain is for the third time in four years, there will be a third different champion crowned in the third Grand Slam tournament of the year.
"I totally feel like I belong, and I'm just so excited for the next match," Bouchard said, sounding anything but nervous.
The two have played just once before, on a hard court in Toronto last summer, with Kvitova winning in straight sets.
"Both of us want to win tomorrow," Kvitova said. "That's the important [thing]. It's just going to depend on who is going to want to win more. ... It's only one winner."