NERVES are expected to be a factor and players are supposed to have doubts, but if those demons terrorised Petra Kvitova at any time on Centre Court yesterday, she masked them well.
The Czech was majestic as she gave the young Eugenie Bouchard a masterclass in what it takes to win a Grand Slam, playing as though the past three years had not happened, and she was merely picking up from where she left off when she beat Maria Sharapova in 2011.
Winning 6-3, 6-0, it was the quickest ladies’ singles final since Martina Navratilova battered Andrea Jaeger 6-0, 6-3, 31 years ago. The nine-time winner watched from the Royal Box and, while that is a record few could fancy troubling, in this kind of form, Kvitova could close the gap.
At 24 years old she now has two titles, converting her only two grand slam finals into victory. But it is the nature of the triumphs which impress. Totally at home on the grass, Kvitova, one of nine Czech players in the ladies draw, took command from the very first game, when she applied pressure on her 20-year-old opponent in her first major final.
Bouchard won the junior title here in 2012 and has enjoyed a meteoric rise in the senior game since then, playing her way into two semi-finals already this year and building on that with a spot in the final at the All England Club. Driven, dedicated and almost robotic in her quest for glory, she may not be the most popular in the locker room due to that single-minded approach, but with the pundits, the punters and the sponsors, she is a favourite.
That was evident on Centre Court yesterday as the crowd rallied behind her, looking for a new name on the trophy and a poster girl who could add laurels to her looks. But just as Kvitova had embraced her role as the underdog in the public’s affections when she took on Sharapova three years ago, the world No.6 took it all in her stride against the girl considered something of a mini Sharapova, thanks to the winning mix of aesthetics, attitude and armoury.
From the first game, she gave the Canadian cause to question herself. It helped mute the crowd, who offered polite applause for most of the first set but then started almost pleading with their favourite in the second, in the hope she could could offer some resistance.
Kvitova, though, was untouchable. In the groove and winning 82 per cent of her own first serve points, it was what she managed to do to the Bouchard serve that surprised most people, winning the opening point on Bouchard’s serve.
Bouchard managed to repel her in that game, but having held her own serve with consummate ease, Kvitova converted the second of two break points in the third game to establish an early advantage. It was one she was never in danger of surrendering.
In the following game, her opponent tried to react and get herself back on track but she simply didn’t have an answer to the shots Kvitova was coming up with. In attack the Czech star was aggressive, while her defence was tenacious. Whether it was returning powerful serves with interest, or finding a matter of centimetres to squeeze the ball past the advancing Bouchard, her tennis was exquisite and varied.
Having broken Bouchard in the third game, she repeated the feat in the seventh. If that prompted a massive collective sigh from the Centre Court crowd, they erupted in joy minutes later when Bouchard broke back. It merely delayed the inevitable and having earned herself three break points in the ninth game she made the third count to wrap up the set in just 32 minutes.
The match started with the showcase court open to the elements and there was a fear that, with showers predicted, the roof would need to be closed. But such was Kvitova’s superiority, play was already concluded by the time the dark clouds opened.
Rattling through the second set in just 23 minutes, Kvitova made a mockery of the prediction that this would be decided on Kvitova’s serve and Bouchard’s return. While the Czech player illustrated why she topped the aces chart in the women’s draw, banging in a further four in this head-to-head, Bouchard’s reputation as the best in competition for first serve returns was significantly undermined as Kvitova blitzed the returns back, breaking Bouchard six times and finding 28 winners. It was a timely reminder for the youngster, reaching a final in only her sixth Grand Slam, that she still has some work to do if she wants to add the ladies title to the girls’ victory she enjoyed two years ago.