Twice as nice: Kvitova proves she belongs with second Wimbledon title
LONDON -- After scattered morning showers at the All England Club, Centre Court was a room without a roof for the women's final on Saturday. Shortly after 2 p.m. BST (9 a.m. EST), Eugenie Bouchard tossed the ball up into the sky for her first serve. A few strokes later, Petra Kvitova blasted the last of her 28 winners, a sweeping cross-court backhand. After 55 minutes, the 2014 Wimbledon women’s final was in the past tense.
And like that, a life had been instantly transformed. Once considered a one-Slam wonder, a WTA also-ran, loaded with talent and power but shaky in body and spirit, Kvitova, 24, is now something else entirely. She is no longer “potentially dangerous” or a “player to watch” or any of the other conditional phrases the chattering class (guilty as charged) has used to describe her. She is a two-time Wimbledon champion, a distinction that so many (Maria Sharapova, Justine Henin and Monica Seles, to name three) cannot claim. She is a likely future member of the Hall of Fame. And most crucially, that vexing question about who will be the brightest star in the WTA cosmos when Serena Williams (32), Li Na (32) and Sharapova (27) depart? Kvitova now has to be atop the candidate list.
In a dazzling, devastating display of powerful grass-court tennis, Kvitova hit through and around Bouchard to coast 6-3, 6-0. In what was more of a solo performance than a match, Kvitova proved superior in every dimension. The stat sheet says plenty: Kvitova hit harder, served better and won 57 of the 92 points, a huge gap. And somehow it all still understates the thorough dominance of this effort. Bouchard may have had Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory in her cheering section, but Kvitova did all the Big Banging on Saturday.
"Definitely was one of the best matches I [have] played," Kvitova said. "I knew that I could play well on the grass, but I really played so well today. I [knew] what I have to play to beat her. I just did really everything I could in the moment. I was very focused for every point. I knew that I have to go forward for every shot to push her."
We talk about speed and force and grace and raw power in tennis. But we seldom talk about weight. Put simply, Kvitova hits the heaviest ball in tennis. Her strokes more closely resemble shot-put shots by the time they land on her opponent's racket. It wasn’t just that Bouchard struggled to match the power of Kvitova, hitting from back on her heels for the first time this tournament, slapping at shots before they strafed by; it was that sometimes Bouchard struggled simply to hold onto the racket.
"It was pretty disappointing. I'm never satisfied to lose. I always to do well," Bouchard said. "But if I try my best, try to make things work, even if my game is not feeling great, that's all I can do. My opponent played better than me today."
In winning the title, Kvitova thwarted Bouchard's grand aspirations. Playing in only her sixth career major, Bouchard -- the Wimbledon junior champion just two years ago -- was the belle of the ball before the final. The marketers can talk about grace and looks, but her tennis is something else entirely. Taking the ball early and playing with a focused intensity, she won six matches with unapologetic ambition. But what was it Shakespeare wrote, not far from here? Oh, right. "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff." On Saturday, Bouchard’s admirable ambition lacked the weapons to back it up. Still, she takes a leave of grass as one of the big winners of Wimbledon 2014, ranked No. 7 come Monday.
That ranking will be three spots behind Kvitova, who will move up to No. 4. The Czech has been here before, of course. In a similar match -- overpowering ball-striking coupled with an absence of nerves -- Kvitova beat Maria Sharapova to win the title in 2011. Then, the trappings and demands of fame became overwhelming. Distraction was her destruction. At the very next Grand Slam, the 2011 U.S. Open, Kvitova lost in the first round. Saturday marked her first return to a major final in the three years since her breakout win. On Friday, she was asked about the drawbacks of winning Wimbledon three years ago. Easy question for her.
"The worst one definitely I wasn't really used to the attention after that," Kvitova said flatly. "I mean, that was the biggest problem, I think."
This time she’ll be better equipped for what’s next: for the questions about how many more titles she thinks she can win, for the attention that she’ll garner at the U.S. Open, for the photo shoot and sponsor grip-and-grabs.
“It’s the second title,” she says, "so I think it will be easier for me."
On Saturday, though, Kvitova was about the present. She rightfully wanted to celebrate her performance. After match point, she fell flat on her back, sprawled on the lawn she had spent the past hour owning. Long known as one of the more grounded and self-possessed players on the women's tour, she was never more down to earth. And she was never higher.