Kvitova beats odds, and gets a French Open victory

Perta Kvitova of the Czech Republic reacts during her match against American Julia Boserup at the French Open Sunday.
Perta Kvitova of the Czech Republic reacts during her match against American Julia Boserup at the French Open Sunday.

PARIS — If Petra Kvitova had been just a worthy adversary who lost a competitive match on Sunday, she still would have walked off center court at Roland Garros a winner for her bravery and determination.

In December, while fending off a knife-wielding home invader at her apartment in Prostejov, Czech Republic, Kvitova grabbed the blade as it was poised at her neck, and during the ensuing struggle, she suffered severe injuries to her left hand, the one she uses to serve and to hit penetrating groundstrokes.

She needed nearly four hours of intricate surgery to repair the hand and save her career. On Sunday, Kvitova came back to the game more than a month earlier than expected, and in just one hour, 14 minutes, she showed the tennis world that she would not be cowed, delivering a convincing 6-3, 6-2 victory over 85th-ranked Julia Boserup of the United States in the first round of the French Open.

“This match was special to me,” said Kvitova, the No. 15 seed, who had declared that just entering the French Open was a victory. “I won for the second time, if I can say.”
The opening day was not so sweet for Angelique Kerber of Germany, the No. 1 seed, who was ousted by unseeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia 6-2, 6-2. Kerber became the first top seed to lose in the first round at Roland Garros in the Open era, which began in 1968. Serena

Williams lost in the second round as a No. 1 seed in 2014, as did Justine Henin of Belgium in 2004.

Clay is Kerber’s worst surface, but this season has been particularly disappointing. She went 5-4, including the Fed Cup, and failed to get past the third round in any of the tournaments.

“I know in the last years I always had up and downs,” Kerber, 29, said, “and right now, of course, I’m actually in the down feeling.”

Earlier on the same court, Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon singles champion, had spilled tears of joy during a postmatch interview. Later, she beamed at a news conference while wearing a black T-shirt emblazoned with a defiant three-word message: “Courage Belief Pojd.”

The last word, according to Katie Spellman, Kvitova’s spokeswoman, is pronounced “poidge” and is Czech for “Come on.” It is Kvitova’s signature yell on court.

Before the 2014 Wimbledon final, David Kotyza, Kvitova’s coach at the time, woke up early and left a message on the back lawn of the house they had rented in London.

Kvitova looked down from her room to see “Pojd” spelled out in large letters made of toilet paper. A few hours later, Kvitova beat Eugenie Bouchard for her second Wimbledon title.

Most of her supporters watching from the stands Sunday — including family, coaches and friends, like the fellow Czech player Lucie Hradecka — wore copies of Kvitova’s custom-made shirt, which they had took to Paris from Prague.

“The courage and belief, that’s what I probably had to have in this kind of situation,” Kvitova said. “The belief and the mind, the heart, it’s really important. So that’s what we try to show everyone. I hope that it will be kind of inspiration for other people, as well.”

When Kvitova and her confidants first considered a design for the shirts, they sought a single word to capture her remarkable resumption of her career.

But one word was not sufficient. One word could never explain Kvitova’s journey from the harrowing home invasion on Dec. 20 — the perpetrator has not been caught — to center court at Roland Garros in only five months.

“I’m happy with the game, of course,” she said. “But it wasn’t really about the game today.”

Until about a month ago, Kvitova was still feeling considerable pain. Scars have marbled the inside of her hand, and there were times her fingers became so swollen that she would have to stop practicing after only 15 minutes.

But she pressed on and received permission from her surgeon to enter the French Open, well ahead of her original schedule. The only condition was that if she felt pain, she had to stop playing.

Kvitova, a popular player on tour, has elicited support from current and past players during her recovery. At the Australian Open, players wished her well in a video, and a get-well banner was unfurled at the tournament in Indians Wells, California. The encouragement continued Sunday.

Martina Navratilova, who was born in Czechoslovakia, welcomed Kvitova back with a Twitter post, “Fantastic to have you back playing — and congratulations for winning today.” French player Alizé Cornet wrote, “Tears in my eyes watching @Petra_Kvitova winning her first come back match at RG so emotional and inspiring.” And Kvitova’s opponent, Boserup, posted a gracious message: “Congratulations to @Petra_Kvitova for so much more than winning a tennis match today.”

American Shelby Rogers said she had watched Kvitova play before taking the court for her own match, a 7-6 (4), 6-4 victory over Marina Erakovic of New Zealand, and had been overcome by the scene.

“I was crying,” Rogers said. “I was like, ‘This is probably not the best preparation I could have before my first round here.’ But we’re all really happy for her. She’s just had the biggest smile on her face the whole week. I saw her a couple days ago, and she’s just super. And we’re all happy for her.”

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