Sunday 18 February 2018

Tennis: Skoda-loving Kvitova drives into fast lane

Oliver Brown

You had better not greet Petra Kvitova with any witticisms about Skodas, the jewel of automotive technology in her native Czech Republic. As befitting the least affected Wimbledon women's champion in living memory, she drives one.

"I have seen some Skodas here," she trilled in excitement, clinging fast to the Venus Rosewater Dish. "They are superb!"

Not for her, then, the favourite lines: 'What do you call a Skoda with a sun roof? A skip.' Or 'How do you double the value of a Skoda? Fill the tank.' Her car of choice seems, by its endearingly imperfect image, the ideal accoutrement for Kvitova, the anti-star.

As she woke up yesterday morning £1.1m wealthier, she could afford to buy a whole garage's worth of them. Refreshingly, though, she refused to commit herself to any extravagant purchases in her early days among the tennis aristocracy.

In the same vein as she drew a hand across her mouth in faint embarrassment upon firing the winning ace against Maria Sharapova, Kvitova continued to entrance by her gentle understatement.

Even Martina Navratilova, her hero and one who had Czech citizenship restored in 2008, was touched.

"I've seen Petra in the locker-room and spoken to her a couple of times," the nine-time Wimbledon winner said. "She's very sweet. It's funny because I haven't had too many players who have said, 'You're my hero'. I thought she was too young for that. I think she saw me when I was in my thirties."

By her astonishing breakthrough, Kvitova joined Navratilova, Jana Novotna, and Martina Hingis in a burgeoning club of Czech-born champions at Wimbledon. The trend was not, in the eyes of one of Prague's most celebrated exports, a coincidence.

In analysing the intense work ethic that has guided Kvitova to the top of the game, Navratilova said: "There are a lot of hungry kids. I think the club tennis makes a big difference. You go to the club and hang out all day, become a little gym rat. If there's nobody to play with, you kick the ball against the wall."

So unruffled was Kvitova throughout her 6-4 6-3 eclipse of Sharapova that she seemed blind to the degree of talent that she had unearthed.

Father Jiri, the deputy mayor of her home town of Fulnek, was assuredly a picture of far greater animation, chest-bumping enthusiastically with friends before capturing scenes of her victory on his video camera.


Small wonder that Sharapova, admirably controlled after a bitterly disappointing performance, predicted Kvitova was capable of holding multiple Grand Slam titles. Her conqueror, who had served notice of her menace on grass through her advance to the semi-finals last year, derived great strength from apparent obliviousness to the scale of the occasion.

Upon seeing her name already inscribed on the champions' board in the All England Club, Kvitova let out an incredulous giggle. Humility was not about to leave her any time soon.

"I'm a normal girl, I think, like girls my age," she smiled. "So I am going to the cinema or chatting with friends. I'm good. All the Czech girls, we are like family."

Fulnek, a place of 6,000 souls, was "nothing special", Kvitova acknowledged. "We have four tennis courts, one football ground -- and a castle. My father was my coach until I was 16, and then I moved to Prostejov and practised."

Irish Independent

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