It happens all the time: You watch Petra Kvitova carve her serve wide, drill her return a foot from the baseline, belt a forehand for an absurdly easy winner, and you think there’s no way she’s not going to be No. 1 in the world for a very long time. Then, as soon as that thought has made its confident way across your mind, she stops doing all of those things. Soon you're wondering if she’s ever going to get the ball into the court again.
That’s pretty much how it went today for Kvitova against Vera Zvonareva. The Czech and the Russian traded five straight service breaks to start the match, before Kvitova, serving at 3-2, called out her coach, David Kotzya. Whatever Kotzya said, it was music to Kvitova’s ears, because she went on to win seven of the next eight games. She took the first set 6-2 and ran out to a seemingly insurmountable two break, 4-1 lead in the second.
Kvitova put on a tennis clinic along the way. She held for 4-2 by serving and volleying. She broke at love for 5-2 with a backhand winner up the line. She kept her shots deeper, hit them more heavily, and changed direction much more easily than her opponent. She ended the first set with 11 winners to Zvonareva’s one. And she started the second set the same way, hitting a second serve ace, breaking with a crosscourt forehand winner, and moving Zvonareva off the court with her wide lefty before slapping a forehand into the open court. At her best, it’s hard to think of another woman who can stretch the court as wide as Kvitova can. It’s also hard to think of another woman who is so good at knocking back a strong serve down the T with her forehand return. She matches power with more power.
But Kvitova, alas, can only remain at her best for so long. The inevitable hiccup came at 4-1 today, when all of the big shots that were going in for her suddenly started going out. After a few ugly backhands popped long and a few more ugly forehands popped wide, it was 4-4. Even a second visit by Kotzya failed to stop the bleeding.
Is this violent inconsistency a natural part of Kvitova’s game? Are the errors a price she’ll always have to pay for the power she generates? Or is she still just raw, and the ups and downs will eventually be smoothed over? We’ll see what happens as she matures, but for now it’s feast or famine—if you can wait her out, you’ll eventually get your chance.
Zvonareva got hers today, but she didn’t take it. Serving for the match at 5-4, Kvitova was as erratic as ever; she missed badly with another wide forehand for 15-15. But Zvonareva was no better; she answered that shot by sending an easy backhand long, and Kvitova finished the game and the match at the net for an important 6-2, 6-4 win in her WTA Championships debut.
That puts Kvitova at 1-0 as the other two players in her group, Wozniacki and Radwanska, take the court. Whatever her record, though, and however well she's playing at any given moment, the Czech remains a wild card. The bombs she threw today should scare her future opponents; her run of bad play should give them hope.