THREE years ago Petra Kvitova hadn’t known the consequences of winning a grand slam on the Centre Court at Wimbledon and the notoriety, the amplified demands and the heightened expectations all proved a massive burden.
She admits she allowed it all to overwhelm her. On Saturday after she picked herself up from the turf, where she had collapsed in celebration, having beaten young Eugenie Bouchard in straight sets, 6-3, 6-0, in the quickest ladies’ final in 31 years, she said she hoped she would have a better handle on things this time around.
“Yes, I remember somebody recognised me on the way to the grounds last time. We came back here to try dresses on for the ball. I remember that walk and was quite surprised when somebody recognised me. I don’t really like to be recognised. I’m not really the kind of person who likes all the attention. I’m a more private person.
“That was the most difficult thing after my last Wimbledon. It was very, very difficult to handle it. Suddenly the media and everyone were very interested in me, and in many ways it changed my life. I’m not sure what I will do differently this time. Maybe it will help that I already know what it feels like to be champion. It is great experience and I remember the good and bad things from that time. The pressure is going to be there again a little bit. More pressure than there was. I can’t imagine what it is going to be like again. All I know is that I am just glad that I won.”
The Czech player had a special year in 2011, with six tournament wins, including the end of year WTA Championships. But her game was fragile. People started expecting her to win every game, every match and, for a humble, shy girl who played tennis for the joy of it and wasn’t one to revel in the glory, the strain began to tell. That was evident throughout 2012 but it manifested itself in a poor 2013. In the grand slams, Wimbledon was the only one where she progressed as far as the quarter-finals and it left her slipping down the rankings.
Her ability was still there, the power was still there but mentally she was struggling. It left her teetering on the brink of exiting the top ten in the world rankings.
Working with a psychologist has helped and on Saturday none of those nerves and few of those doubts were allowed to surface, as the 24-year-old left hander took complete control of proceedings on the main show court.
That earned her another $3 million (£1.76m) in prize money but the down-to-earth girl next door who was an immensely popular winner in the ladies’ locker room said she had no intention of lavishing herself with material goods courtesy of her winner’s cheque in 2011, famously maintaining she was happy with her Skoda, is still driven by something far more powerful than money.
It was her father Jiri’s birthday yesterday and she dedicated her win to the man who had coached her until she was a 16-year-old. She now has the means to buy him virtually anything his heart desires but she insists there was no need.
“I’m not really interested in the money. It’s not my job, I have a manager for that, I’m not really thinking about that. It is not one of the important things in my life. For my dad’s birthday I know I could buy him anything, but this trophy money can’t buy and I think that is enough for him. Everything I do is for him. I started with him and he has spent a lot of time with me.
“I bought a flat when I won my first title but I’m looking forward to buying a house for my parents. The house will be in the Czech Republic, they are going to build a brand new house.”
For someone who shuns the spotlight, she shone under it on Centre Court on Saturday and was the belle of the Champions Ball last night, but today she will head back to her homeland. “I need to celebrate with them as well, although I’m not really a celebrating kind of girl. It will be enough to see them and go out together, and we can enjoy each other’s company, because I am not at home so much now. Maybe there will be some champagne, I think maybe I won’t drive!”
In a country where tennis has bred so many of the elite performers, including the woman who inspired Kvitova, Martina Navratilova, she will return a hero. The champion was just one of nine Czech players in the ladies draw.
“I saw [Martina] straight after my final. It was on the stairs up, she was there waiting for me and she said ‘many congrats’. Then I saw her on the TV and she had tears in her eyes again. She was so happy. It’s so nice, I know she’s a really big fan of me. She was cheering for me. I can’t describe what that means to me because she’s a legend, a great person and it’s great to have this kind of fan.”
Kvitova will be the one to inspire the next generation, though. “It’s so nice. When I won my first title here I saw many children after that wanting to play tennis because of me. I am the idol of them. So it is pretty nice and an honour. But of course on the other side I need to work very hard to be a real idol for them.
But having underlined she is more than a one-hit wonder, with a tennis display that suggests she could be dominating this grand slam for many years to come, she has less to prove.
“I won it for the second time. That means I didn’t do it just the once. It’s so nice that I’m playing so well at Wimbledon but I will try to show it everywhere now. I think I need to enjoy it this time. Otherwise I really can’t do that.”