At a certain point, it’s probably best to stop hoping that a player will ever change from what she has always been. How many pros succeed in transforming themselves, in fixing their flaws and solving their riddles, in the middle of their careers? You can count them on one hand. Sometimes beating No. 1 players and winning major titles isn't enough to manufacture confidence over the long term. As two women have shown this summer, even reaching the summit of the sport, the final at Wimbledon, won't lift your game for long.
The latest player to remind us of this cold hard fact is 24-year-old Petra Kvitova. Watching her refuse to be beaten at Wimbledon, I had held out some small hope that she would take that attitude with her when she left Centre Court. She had been so determined there; why should it be different anywhere else?
But, of course, it has been different. After a month-long break, Kvitova lost her second match in Montreal, to Ekaterina Makarova. Yesterday she lost her first match in Cincinnati, to Elina Svitolina. A pattern has been repeated: In 2011, after winning her maiden Wimbledon title, Kvitova lost in the second round at each of these two events, before going out in the first round of the U.S. Open.
This time even Kvitova was left scratching her head.
“From the beginning I didn’t feel comfortable out there,” said Kvitova, who has struggled in the North American humidity in the past. “I was really trying to fight, but I just wasn’t able to do it today. I’m not sure why. But it happened.”
Credit Kvitova for being honest: When she was asked if she was hitting the ball well in practice, she said “Not really.” You rarely hear that from a player.
So now we know: Petra is still Petra. She says she’s happy she has entered New Haven next week, to get some more match play. Let’s hope she can avoid a repeat from three years ago and win at least one match in New York.