Two of the Most Inspiring Stories in Tennis Will Meet in the U.S. Open Quarterfinals
The 2017 tennis season has been the year of the comeback. The unexpected late-career revivals of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, who have won all three of this year's majors, have them on a collision course in Flushing Meadows. Less celebrated, but maybe more impressive, have been the inspiring stories of Venus Williams and Petra Kvitova, who will meet in the U.S. Open quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Like Federer and Nadal, Williams is improving at an unlikely moment. At age 37, Williams—who beat Carla Suarez Navarro in three sets Sunday—has been more consistent in Grand Slams this year than any other woman. She reached the final of the Australian Open, losing to her sister, Serena. She fell in the fourth round at the French Open, but she reached the Wimbledon final before losing to Garbine Muguruza. Prior to this season, Williams—a seven-time major winner—hadn't reached a Grand Slam final since 2009. But six years after she announced her diagnosis with Sjogren's syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that can cause fatigue and pain, Williams is in great position to win the U.S. Open for the first time since 2001—an astounding testament to her remarkable longevity, especially considering physical obstacles she's faced. To watch Williams compete and succeed in 2017 is a genuine joy.
In her way is Petra Kvitova, undoubtedly the comeback story of the year. Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, is playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2015 U.S. Open. But far more remarkable is the fact that she's playing at all: In December, a man broke into her Czech Republic apartment and attacked her with a knife, badly injuring her left hand. Kvitova, who is left-handed, wasn't sure she'd be able to hold a racket again. She made an improbable return at the French Open, but even now her hand still hasn't fully healed, not to mention the psychological scars after such a harrowing episode. Sunday night, she upset Garbine Muguruza, widely considered the favorite to win the women's draw, in straight sets.
"What she's gone through is unimaginable, unreasonable. The world we live in is just shocking," Williams said of Kvitova. "So for her, I think to be playing well is such a blessing."
Considering Karolina Pliskova's shakiness in the tournament's early rounds, the winner of Tuesday's Williams–Kvitova match will likely assume the title of tournament favorite. Kvitova is 4–1 over her career against Williams, but they haven't played since 2014. They've met just once at a major—Wimbledon 2014, when Kvitova squeaked by with a 5-7, 7-6(2), 7-5 win. Despite her unfavorable record against Kvitova, Williams will surely appreciate her opponent's ejection of Muguruza, who convincingly beat Williams in July's Wimbledon final and who looked indomitable prior to Sunday.
Tuesday's quarterfinal will make for fascinating tennis. Both players are compelling stylistically, and a tight three–set match would hardly surprise me. But the mere fact that Petra Kvitova and Venus Williams are playing in a U.S. Open quarterfinal in 2017 is more than enough cause for celebration.