LONDON -- When No. 6 Petra Kvitova and No. 13 Eugenie Bouchard step on Centre Court for the Wimbledon final on Saturday, it will be unchartered territory for only one of the players. Kvitova has been here before -- her Wimbledon victory in 2011 remains her only Grand Slam final -- while Bouchard, in only her second full year on the WTA tour, is playing her first major final.
The two are starkly contrasted: Bouchard, a 20-year-old Canadian full of ambition and confidence, acts like she's already a champion (granted, she is the 2012 Wimbledon junior champion). Kvitova, a shy 24-year-old Czech, actually is a Grand Slam champion. Bouchard has hungry agents hovering wherever she goes -- her management contract with Lagardere reportedly expires this year -- while Kvitova can wander through the All England Club virtually unknown. Kvitova knows just how winning a major can change your life. Bouchard, as driven as she is, doesn't (yet).
Kvitova was 21 when she fired an ace to seal her 6-3, 6-4 win over Maria Sharapova in the 2011 Wimbledon final, but she hasn't been in a Grand Slam final since. Instead of using that Wimbledon win as a springboard, Kvitova tumbled. She recorded comically bad losses and struggled with her health. However her ranking remained in the top 10 because every few months she'd rediscover her game and lay claim to a title. But every time another major rolled around, no one would be surprised to see her fall out early. Even at Wimbledon this year, she nearly tumbled out in the third round against Venus Williams.
"It wasn't really easy," Kvitova said of her struggles after her Wimbledon victory. "It [was] a new experience. You can read [about] it many, many times, but you never know how it feels. I [expected] too much from myself after that. I probably thought that I need to win any match because I'm Grand Slam champion and everybody is expecting from me just the best. It's not all like that."
Yet as inconsistent as Kvitova has been, she's always been able to deliver on the grass at Wimbledon -- she's made the quarterfinals or better the last five years. She is confident and comfortable at the All England Club, and that should come as no surprise: The quiet and peaceful nature suits her. She has a game-changing level of power off the ground. Having grown up learning the game on fast indoor hard courts, the ease with which she moves to the ball early, cuts off angles, and hits flat is second to none. On a sheer power scale only Serena Williams rivals her.
Kvitova is the favorite against Bouchard, but this is a tough match to call. Kvitova won their only match last year, a straight set win on hard courts, but Bouchard is a completely different player now. Both players have aggressive games that excel on grass. So much of the match will depend on Kvitova, and whether or not she can manage the pressure and play her best tennis. Her big, swinging lefty serve will be key. Kvitova, who has 23 more aces than Bouchard (38-15) at Wimbledon, must have a good serving day in order to free her up to attack Bouchard's serve.
As for Bouchard, she needs to stay powerful and consistent against Kvitova, who is known to throw in a few bad games when pressed. These are players who attack in their own way. Kvitova does it with pure power. Bouchard does it with her court positioning and ability to redirect the ball flat and up the line.
"Bouchard is playing a very solid game," Kvitova said. "She's a very good mover. She's nearby the baseline. It's very similar to my game. It's going to be tough battle. Definitely I had a few already, so I know how it feels and what I can expect."
"These two have played the best [modern] grass court tennis this fortnight," 1999 champion Lindsay Davenport tweeted.
Both women come into the final tested in their own way. Bouchard has had the tougher road to the final -- she's already beaten two top-10 players, No. 3 Simona Halep and No. 7 Angelique Kerber, and four seeds -- yet she hasn't dropped a set yet. Kvitova has lost just one set -- against Venus in the third round -- but that tight victory remains the best women's match of the tournament so far. After that, Kvitova walked away with the belief that she could do something special here. Regardless of what happens Saturday, Kvitova will jump up to No. 4 in the rankings. Bouchard has an opportunity to push her career-high ranking even higher, moving to No. 6 if she wins.
"It's a new situation for me," Bouchard said. "She's already been in a final and won it. I'm going to go out and really just try to go for it and take my chances."
Prediction: Can I hedge my bets? Either Bouchard in straight sets or Kvitova in three.