NEW YORK—We have a tendency to dismiss the non-Slam results of major champions, figuring their form will return once a fortnight begins. Why else do we keep picking Svetlana Kuznetsova as a dark horse? (And at the 2009 French Open, our undying loyalty was justified.)
But maybe we should have paid more attention to Petra Kvitova's recent run of form. The Czech, whose Wimbledon trophy hasn't had time to collect dust, went just 2-2 after SW19, both losses coming to Andrea Petkovic in the round of 16 at hard-court tournaments. It may have been a bad matchup, but Petkovic drubbed Kvitova both times, and the lefty came into the North American summer stretch on a 26-3 tear.
Make that 2-3, post All England Club, as Kvitova lost to Alexandra Dulgheru today, 7-6 (3), 6-3, in the first round of the U.S. Open. It's the exact score by which Kvitova won her openers in Toronto and Cincinnati, but Dulgheru, one of the better unseeded players in the draw, let the Wimbledon champ reverse her own fortune. Kvitova struck an astonishing 52 unforced errors and was broken five times, this with a serve that can dictate on any surface. But it's clear that Kvitova prefers the natural courts of clay and grass; she also lost early in Indian Wells and Miami, though her play in January—win at Brisbane, quarters in Melbourne—was commendable.
The visuals were as bad as the numbers suggest. Kvitova negated her own serve and had no range with her forehand, repeatedly spraying the shot long, including on match point. When Dulgheru earned an opportunity to serve out the match—the true, gut-check moment—she didn't just succeed, she did so at love. Credit the Romanian for this, no matter how poorly Kvitova was playing.
But it's Kvitova who we must end with. She gave a tepid performance, not what we expected from a Wimbledon winner, no matter her struggles. Indeed, she'll always be a pick at the Slams, and rightfully so. This wasn't Kvitova's tournament, but it was certainly her year, a breakthrough season that can still yield more bounty. Maybe Wimbledon was enough this summer. There are worse kinds of hangovers.