There is an endearing naivete to the new Wimbledon ladies’ singles champion Petra Kvitova, not least in the 21-year-old’s chosen mode of transportation to training from her modest flat in the tiny Czech border town of Fulnek each day. “I drive a Skoda,” said Kvitova, who made short work of Maria Sharapova on Saturday for her maiden grand slam win. “It’s a new one. I have seen some Skodas here. They are superb! I drive it to the tennis club to practise every day. I practise in Prostejov so I go home afterwards and it’s an hour by car so I drive. Will I buy a new one now? I don’t think so.”
Much more of this and she can expect a new top of the range model to be delivered to her directly in any case. But there is a serious point out there. If, and it is a big if, we accept that the Williams sisters are in some kind of terminal decline, is a coy Czech girl who wears braces, has halting English and appears to shun publicity a plausible poster girl for those selling the advertising space for the new generation of ladies’ tennis?
Kvitova has a bigger game, if not bigger personality, than her contemporaries Caroline Wozniacki and Victoria Azarenka, but do any of the above have the box office to rival Maria Sharapova or Kim Clijsters? Kvitova doesn’t exactly seem like the type to keep the newspapers busy with tales of how she blew her million-pound booty in nightclubs and on fast cars. But at least she has countrywomen Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna in her corner, two women in whose footsteps she followed on Saturday.
She is also one of a new clutch of Czech players making waves in the game. No fewer than nine Czechs populate the top 100 in the women’s rankings, while she trains at the same club as Tomas Berdych, last year’s men’s finalist.
And she has certainly been motoring through the rankings. As recently as five years ago, the 16-year-old Kvitova was ranked 773rd in the world, still being coached by her father Jiri, hitting with her two brothers Jiri and Libor, and wasn’t entirely sure she would even pursue a professional tennis career. “I’m a normal girl,” she said, “I think I am like most girls my age. I like going to the cinema or chatting with friends or something. Until I was 16 I only played for an hour or an hour and-a-half after school. I didn’t think that I could be a tennis player. Then when I moved to Prostejov I saw who was practising there -- people like Tomas Berdych.”
Last year, when she made it to the semi-finals here before losing to Serena Williams, she was ranked a lowly 62. She had gone into the tournament on a run of just one win in the six preceding tournaments and followed it up with a run of five first-round losses. If she is to go on to give the megastars of women’s tennis a run for their money, such inconsistency will be unacceptable now.
“Hopefully it will be better than last year -- it can’t be any worse,” Kvitova said. “But I just want to take it easy from the tennis. I have to go and play and do a lot of work. Last year I was here and I was 62 in the world and now I’m eighth and I won Wimbledon. It’s so quick. I will take a few days off but I don’t know how many. Of course I want to relax and enjoy this trophy.”
Also working in Kvitova’s favour is the fact that the left-hander’s big-hitting game from either flank is equally compatible with every surface. She never used to think that way. “I used to have a favourite surface,” she said. “It was only hard courts. But after last year here it was grass. And this year after I won in Madrid it was clay, so I like everything now. I always felt good on grass. I remember when I was serving it was a problem for the other player and I played so fast.”
She feels mentally stronger this season and anyone who witnessed the relentlessness of her performance on Saturday could hardly disagree. “I knew I had to work on the mental side,” she said. “But I have improved a lot. When you win some matches you get more confident.”
Sharapova, whose frailties on the serve flared up yet again on Saturday, admitted Kvitova is probably here to stay. “She has a tremendous amount of potential to achieve many great things,” the Russian said. “There’s always going to be a generation after the next. They’re going to step up at one point. It happened to be this tournament. We’ll see whether that continues for the years to come.”
The first grand slam win of her career was confirmed by her first ace on Championship point. “It was a good way to end,” Kvitova said. Except it wasn’t an end. It was only a beginning.