IT MAY feel unfair to find yourself labelled part of the old guard when you are only 24, but that is the position Petra Kvitova finds herself in ahead of her meeting with Eugenie Bouchard this afternoon.
Just as the main story in the men’s singles has been the challenge to the Big Four of less experienced men such as Milos Raonic, Grigor Dimitrov and Nick Kyrgios, so the women’s singles has seen the clash of young pretenders such as Bouchard and Simona Halep with those who have been round the block a few times more.
Having won here three years ago, Kvitova is in that latter group. Once Maria Sharapova lost in the fourth round to join the Williams sisters on the sidelines, the Czech woman was the only former winner to make it as far as the last eight. She is also the only major winner so far to have been born in the 1990s, but that 2011 victory means it makes sense for her to be seen as part of the women’s tour establishment.
The tenor of this afternoon’s final is also likely to enhance the impression that this is a clash of generations. Bouchard is four years younger and is in her first Grand Slam final, with her Junior Wimbledon win of 2012 her only comparable experience. Today is a first return to a major final for Kvitova, but she has matured significantly in the interim, becoming tougher and more consistent.
The risk for the older woman is that, as the higher seed and the more accomplished player, she feels she is there to be shot at, becoming too defensive as a result. Self-assured at the best of times, Bouchard is in a very confident state of mind just now, and will pounce on any sign of weakness. Aggression is one of the Canadian’s greatest strengths, and, while fresh-faced and mild-mannered off the court, she delights in being predatory on it.
Another advantage for the 20-year-old is her greater mobility. If she stays close to the baseline it is out of choice.
For Kvitova, by contrast, her near-permanent presence just behind the line is born of necessity: she just does not have the lightness of foot to skip around court during rallies. Hit balls straight to her and she will return them all day, but keep her guessing by introducing some variety, and she can become very uncomfortable.
Even so, while Bouchard is in better form, there is, as ever with debutants, the question of how she will respond on the big occasion. Sabine Lisicki, for example, was in more than decent form going into last year’s final against Marion Bartoli, but crumbled on Centre Court in an embarrassingly one-sided encounter. No 20-year-old can be entirely free of self-doubt, and if Bouchard goes behind early on it will be interesting to see how she deals with the anxiety.
So far, she has handled the pressure extremely well. She bristled a little yesterday when asked why her friendship with Britain’s Laura Robson had come to an end, refusing to reveal the cause, but that is about as tense as she has been over the last couple of weeks. Despite her age, she already has a substantial history behind her: to win a slam has been her ambition for more than a decade, and she has applied herself to achieving it with unswerving dedication. “I started playing tennis at five years old,” she said yesterday. “Soon after, it was my dream to become a professional tennis player.
“I was very young when I decided to do it – I was nine. Since that age I dreamt of winning a Grand Slam.
“As for this year, it’s been a long time in the making,” she continued, referring not only to her progress here but also to the fact she reached the last four of the previous two slams. “I wouldn’t say it’s an overnight thing.
“I’ve just been believing in myself more and more, and meeting the challenges I faced. Every time I have a challenge, I just try to get better.
“I think I play a solid, aggressive game, one that’s well suited for grass. I really just try to take control of the point when I can and go for it. I want to try to take my chances, not kind of wait till someone give it to me. So I think that’s an important thing that I do.”
The important thing as far as Kvitova is concerned is getting her mental approach right. She is in no doubt about how dangerous Bouchard will be, and sees inner fortitude as the key to winning her second title.
“I think my preparation is very similar [to 2011],” she said. “I think I’m working more on my mental side.
“I need to be ready 100 per cent, because I know that she is going to be a tough opponent. And I knew that in 2011 [when she beat Sharapova] as well, so it’s no change for me.
“Bouchard is playing a very solid game. She’s a very good mover. I think it’s going to be a tough battle – I’ve definitely had a few already, so I know how it feels and what I can expect.”
If she gets something less than she expects – if Bouchard is stricken by nerves – Kvitova will get her second slam. But if both women play to form, as is probable, the Canadian will lift what should be her first of many majors.