Bryan Armen Graham
Saturday July 2nd, 2011

Eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova beat Maria Sharapova in Saturday's final, becoming the first Czech to win at Wimbledon since Jana Novotna in 1998. (AP)

WIMBLEDON, England -- Five thoughts off Petra Kvitova's 6-3, 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon women's final:

Czech, please. The tennis fans, administrators and former champs who held their breath hoping Petra Kvitova wouldn’t be paralyzed with awe playing in her first Wimbledon final? They exhaled after about two minutes into today’s match. The 21-year-old Czech didn’t just meet the moment; she kicked the moment’s ass. Belting strokes with astonishing (unprecedented?) pace, serving bombs, working her lefty angles, serving soundly, and, above all, betraying nothing even resembling nervousness, Kvitova outplayed Maria Sharapova, to win the women’s title. For all that tumult in the upper tiers of the WTA rankings, there is an unmistakable sense we saw a real champion today. “She’s winning a lot more,” John McEnroe surmised right after the match. Hard to disagree. Just a thoroughly impressive victory.

It wasn't Maria's day. Seven years ago, Sharapova played in her first major final and stared down the mighty Serena Williams. In an “ignorance-is-bliss” kind of way, she swung with abandon, went for the lines and suddenly she was a champion. She’s been through a great deal since then: winning more majors, flirting with a potential career-ending injury, dispatching her dad, going through coaches. She knows the significance of getting back to a Grand Slam final. And instead of playing opportunistically today, she played tight and scared. Last time she was in this position, it was as if there were no thoughts in her head. Today, it was as if her mind was cluttered. There were double-faults, and shanks and palpable tightness. Sharapova ought to be proud of herself for getting back in the top 10 and reviving her career. But this was not her best day.

Too often in tennis we are rashly hasty in coronating champions. Any decent junior is suddenly the second coming of Rod Laver or Steffi Graf. Still, it’s hard not to walk away from this tournament exuberantly optimistic about the prospects of Petra Kvitova. She has a terrifically complete game—far more nuanced than many (self included) initially thought. She plays well of both sides, she mixes up her serve, she slices when necessary. She played here with poise and self-belief, not least her serving out the title with a love game. And notice how she celebrated afterwards: there was no scaling of the stands to hug her box, no dramatic drops to the grass. Kvotiva smiled with satisfaction but the message was: “Yeah, that’s about how I thought it’d go.” She’s now a Wimbledon champion and her profile has changed forever. But it sure looks like she’s up for what’s next.

The serve is the only shot in tennis you -- and only you -- control. There’s no defense. You’re not responding. Master the serve and you put yourself in position to win. Struggle with the serve and the whole foundation of your game can crumble. For years now, Sharapova has had a tempestuous relationship with her serve. In her semifinal match she double-faulted 13 times and survived. Today she wasn’t as lucky. Her ball fluttered. Her timing wavered. She hit double-faults early and often and at the most inopportune times. The good news: the problem is correctable. The bad news: it’s hard to see her winning another major until she fixes the way she initiates points. • Bring on the men. It was a fine match today, a first-time finalist who seized the opportunity, took down a former champ and announced herself as a potential star for many years. But this was something other than a classic match; and the atmosphere reflected as much. No sooner had Kvitova and Sharapova shaken hands at the net, talk turned to tomorrow’s men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal. One versus two. The winners of the last two majors. The new Alpha rivalry in men’s tennis. Given what is at stake, given the level of their play yesterday (and given the rations of time both players take between points), hopes are high for a classic.

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