When you fall down, you get straight back up again.
When Petra Kvitova took the 2018 Mutua Madrid Open title, her tears belied more than just happiness. The Czech, one of the most formidable players of her generation, had just completed her comeback to first-class competition in the Caja Mágica. It had been a journey plagued by obstacles that would have been too many for even the most tenacious, would have discouraged even the most optimistic and, without doubt, whose cruel twist of fate would have shattered the hopes of even the most deluded of minds.
However, it takes more than that to extinguish Petra’s fire, it takes a whole lot more than that.
It was the winter of 2016 and Kvitova had retreated to the town of Prostejov, the nerve centre of Czech tennis, in the heart of a new preseason. With just a few days to go until Christmas festivities would begin, the two-time Wimbledon champion was relaxing at home, on a day like any other. Suddenly, the front-door bell rang, and so began an ever-indelible nightmare.
Expecting a possible anti-doping check, Kvitova opened the door to the visitor. However, the reality she was faced with was significantly different to the one she had imagined. A 33-year-old man, claiming to be checking the water heater in the middle of winter, entered the Czech player’s home. Minutes later, following a feigned check of the water temperature in the bathroom, the man was holding the blade of a knife to the Czech star’s throat.
Whether through pure survival instinct, bravery in the face of danger or for some other reason, Petra looked for a quick solution. Where most would have been frozen by the sheer terror of the situation, Kvitova took the blade that threatened her life with both hands. The struggle, a horrific scene that covered the room in blood, destroyed the left-handed player’s favoured hand, severing two nerves and damaging tendons in her five fingers. A handful of dollars, a pittance in the hands of pitiful man, convinced the assailant to leave the house.
For Petra, a long journey had just begun. The damage caused was so great that surgeons required four hours of uninterrupted surgery to reconstruct her hand.
Born in a village with a population of just 7,000 in the east of the Czech Republic (Bílovec), competing against the odds was never foreign to Kvitova. The youngest daughter in a humble family, Petra grew up observing her father’s unrewarded efforts at cultivating her two older brothers’ talent for tennis. Without the luxury of even having their own car and so relying on trains to connect them to their surroundings, a future in tennis for the family was little more than a pipe dream.
Accompanied by the advice of her father until the age of 16, Petra modelled her strengths as an athlete on the high demands at home. With a proud father, fair to a tee in training, regardless of the identity of the student, the Czech began building the game that has seen in a new era on tour. In Fulnek, which is even smaller than her municipality of birth, Kvitova became the now well-known character that is hard-working, humble and so engrossed in the sport.
That little girl with far-off origins, capable of writing an improbable story through pure tenacity and talent, once again found herself with a mountain to climb. This time she was fully mature, her resilience already more than proven and, after everything she had achieved, she was well within her rights to leave it all behind. But the response from one of the most admired athletes in women’s sport has made Kvitova into a true idol.
The aggression she was subjected to has left more than the psychological scar of the burden of an indelible memory burned into her mind. Two years after the event, the left-hander has not completely recovered the movement in her playing hand, and she lacks sensation in the tips of her thumb and index finger. Her story, therefore, was written in the presence of mental and physical impediments that were still raw, making what she has achieved so far all the more impressive.
In 2018, fans at the Mutua Madrid Open bore witness to her greatest conquest since the incident. In a demonstration of pure resilience, Kvitova became the first player to win three titles on the Caja Mágica clay. The Czech rediscovered an astonishing pace of play in the Spanish capital to reclaim the cup, losing just two sets in the whole tournament and dominating a final that lasted almost three hours against Dutch player Kiki Bertens, it was one of the most impressive stories in the tournament’s history.
Kvitova’s desire to keep rewriting her own destiny, despite the circumstances, make her a special player. Madrid will have the fortune of welcoming back one of its greatest ambassadors and few would dare write her off in the battle for a new cup. One of the most powerful games on tour is preparing to let fly at the altitude of Madrid, a luxury playground given the traits of her game.
Her efforts in 2019 underscore her definitive return to the elite and her desire to reach the pinnacle of world tennis seems to be burning brighter than ever. The evidence is very clear. In January she was back in a Grand Slam final, five years after her last, and just two games stood between her and occupying the world no. 1 spot for the first time.
Now, with the responsibility of defending the crown, the Caja Mágica is getting ready to welcome back its biggest champion. While competing at the top looked unlikely both during her childhood and later in life, Kvitova has always come up with the answer.
Welcome back Petra!