Saturday 23 February 2019

Kvitova closing in on fairytale return to top two years after knife attack

Petra Kvitova celebrates her victory against Ashleigh Barty during their women's singles quarter-final match on day nine of the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Petra Kvitova celebrates her victory against Ashleigh Barty during their women's singles quarter-final match on day nine of the Australian Open in Melbourne. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

Simon Briggs

Petra Kvitova became the Barty party-pooper yesterday, eliminating home favourite Ashleigh Barty in a blaze of screaming winners. But the Australian fans soon forgave her, especially when her emotions overflowed after the match.

It is only just over two years since Kvitova was attacked by a knife-wielding burglar in her flat in Prostejov, Czech Republic, suffering such deep cuts to her racquet hand that even her surgeon thought it unlikely she would ever play professional tennis again.

Now she is back in a major semi-final for the first time since 2014, the year of her second Wimbledon title. What is more, she stands at the front of the pack to replace Simona Halep as world No 1 next week. Should she get there - and the permutations surrounding the final few matches of this event are complex - she would stand atop the ladder for the first time.

"Actually, it was kind of a mix of emotions of everything I've been through," said Kvitova, when asked about the lump in her throat that had left her briefly unable to respond to Jim Courier's questions.

"I always wanted to come back and play on the highest level I can. Yeah, it just took me a bit to stop the tears, but it was happy tears, for sure."

Flaky Kvitova's career has veered between the brilliant and the flaky. At the start of the event, her winning percentage in the majors stood at 70, lower than any other player to have collected two titles at this level.

This year, though, she looks leaner and more determined, having clocked 10 straight victories, including the title at the warm-up event in Sydney. She even says she has developed a "Plan B" for the days when her ferocious, scudding groundstrokes miss their mark.

Kvitova is widely acknowledged to be one of the kindest souls on the tour, as Barty pointed out after her own 6-1, 6-4 defeat.

"Today Petra was outstanding," Barty said. "She's an amazing human being. I think she's beginning to play her best tennis again. But most importantly, I think from all of the girls in the locker room, it's amazing just to see her back out here."

A third major title for Kvitova would certainly be a heart-warming story. But her route must go through the 25-year-old American Danielle Collins, the most surprising semi-finalist in either draw.

Collins came into Melbourne this time without ever having won a main-draw match at a major, but she beat No 2 seed Angelique Kerber for the loss of just two games, and yesterday overcame Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 7-5, 6-1. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Australian Open, Live, Eurosport 1, 8.0am/midnight

Telegraph.co.uk

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