Person to Person: Petra Kvitova's latest head-scratching struggle

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The No. 4 seed avoided disaster with a first-round escape of Marina Erakovic. (AP)

Are you missing “Mad Men,” the impeccably crafted television drama whose seven-season run ended last week? The show centered around an advertising savant, Don Draper, who despite the trappings of success remained haunted by a troubled and bereft past. In simple terms, lead actor Jon Hamm played two completely different characters in the acclaimed series.

For those of you going through withdrawals, I present to you Petra Kvitova. In simple terms, she is absolutely maddening to watch. At times she fails to even resemble the two-time Wimbledon champion that she is; her game is that hit or miss. This is hardly groundbreaking news, but Kvitova can lose to anyone on any given day, despite a ranking that’s regularly in the Top 5. I both commend and pity her hardcore fans.

We’ve known this character flaw for years. Even after Kvitova’s second Wimbledon triumph last year, she went out early at both summer Masters events in North America, and was eliminated in the third round of the U.S. Open by a 145th-ranked qualifier. What did she do after that? You guessed it: Won a Premier 5 tournament in Wuhan and, a week later, finished second at a Premier Mandatory event in Beijing.

But like Draper in “Mad Men,” we’ll probably never learn to say no. Kvitova’s gifts are just too tantalizing to ignore: A huge, hooking left-handed serve; a colossus of a forehand; championship-level experience. I picked her to finish the season as the WTA player of the year, and also for her to win this tournament, which would be her first major title outside the All England Club.

Kvitova could still very well do both of those things. But her 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 first-round escape of 80th-ranked Marina Erakovic suggests two things: At worst, another Kvitova disappointment is in the cards. And at best, it’s going to be a very, very bumpy ride toward the title.

(Let’s have a moment of silence for her devoted fans.)

Because of her already legendary level of inconsistency, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly why Kvitova struggles against inferior competition. But Erakovic, and perhaps the clay surface underfoot, conspired to frustrate the Czech into 47 unforced errors. During the second set, Kvitova both reached for the ball and let it come to her, neither of which is a sound approach for any player, and particularly for the long-limbed lefty. Her giant strokes require precise positioning, and there wasn’t enough of that from the No. 4 seed—which is surprising because Kvitova has proven so adept both on clay (she won the Madrid Open for a second time earlier this month) and slick grass in the past. Errors flowed, service games were extended, and Erakovic took a double-break lead at 5-2 that she wouldn’t relinquish.

The deciding set couldn’t have been much more comforting for Kvitova, even though she won it. She took two break-of-serve leads at 2-1 and 4-3, but was immediately broken back each time. Erakovic, whose compact swings were in sharp contrast to Kvitova’s deliveries, did her part by serving smart and mixing up her placements. But it was Kvitova’s mental lapses, which continue to confound, that played a larger role in this drama.

Kvitova held on, barely, by holding serve after one final break at 4-4. Her backhand may have been as good as her forehand today, and she finished the match with a curling two-handed winner that grazed the sideline. As Kvitova walked toward the locker room, she signed a painting drawn by a courtside artist. Unlike the depiction itself, or Matthew Weiner’s tour de force of a TV show, it was no masterpiece.

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