Is Petra Kvitova the one to watch at Wimbledon 2018?

February 22, 2018

These are undoubtedly interesting times in women's tennis. The last year has seen Jelena Ostapenko, Sloane Stephens and, most recently, Caroline Wozniacki all winning their first Grand Slams. Garbine Muguruza's triumph at the Championships, Wimbledon was only her second Grand Slam.

None of this has happened without context, of course. After years of dominance, Serena Williams has spent nearly a year on the sidelines after winning the 2017 Australian Open while eight weeks pregnant. Her maternity break has opened up opportunities for the rest, with several players gladly taking them.

With fans now looking forwards to the French Open and then Wimbledon, a close eye will be kept on Serena's progress. Many thought she would simply roar back into action, baby in tow, to resume her relentless accumulation of titles. While she has now played again - albeit a dead rubber doubles match with sister Venus in the Federation Cup - Serena's shocking revelation that childbirth and its complications nearly killed her suggests the road back to full fitness may be rockier than hoped.

All this opens up new possibilities for the rest of the field, and one player who can approach the next few months with huge confidence is Petra Kvitova.

The Czech knows a thing or two about life-threatening situations herself, being faced with a knife-wielding intruder in her apartment just over a year ago. She was left with severe hand injuries that required surgery to reattach severed tendons. 

After a six-month break, she was back last summer, but it is only now that she is starting to show the kind of quality that brought her the ladies' title at Wimbledon in 2011 and 2014. 

Kvitova suffered a shock first-round exit in Melbourne against the unseeded Andrea Petkovic, but since then she has hit her best form. After 13 straight wins and back-to-back titles in St Petersburg and Qatar, she will return to the top ten when the WTA rankings are updated. 

Qatar was no easy win; she had to come from a set down to defeat Muguruza 3-6 6-3 6-4 in the final and faced break points in her opening three service games of the second set.  

All this came after beating Agnieszka Radwanska and Elina Svitolina on the way to the semi-finals, where she overcame Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki. Having defeated Ostapenko in the quarter finals in St Petersburg, Kvitova has already beaten three of the four Grand Slam title holders this year.

Speaking after the match, she said: "It's a very special feeling to be back. I remember sometime last year when I was asked about this, I couldn't even dream of it."

If 2017 was the stuff of nightmares, Kvitova can now sleep easy knowing her best form is returning. At 27, she is the ideal age to launch a major assault on the sport's biggest titles.  

Indeed, while the likes of Simona Halep and Britain's Johanna Konta continue to strive for their first Grand Slam titles, the big story of 2018 may be the comebacks of two former Wimbledon champions who, for very different reasons, spent time in hospital last year and emerged grateful to be alive. 

For all the fascination first-time Grand Slam winners bring, Serena and Kvitova offer some alternative narratives that will thicken the plot of women's tennis year. 

Image: Cameron Spencer/Getty Images from Keith Prowse subscription

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