“When I won my first Grand Slam [at Wimbledon in 2011] I was quite young and didn’t know how to handle it,” Petra Kvitova says. “I think  was much better because I knew what to expect.”
At 26, she is a two-time Wimbledon champion, the No. 11-ranked player in the world and the anchor of her nation’s fourth Fed Cup championship in the last five years. She is, by her own admission, more grown up and accustomed to the limelight, and hopes that maturity will help her avoid the pratfalls of winning big one week and then losing meekly in her next tournament.
Few have questioned Kvitova’s talent since she burst on the scene with a fourth-round finish at the 2008 French Open (her first major). She then upset world No. 1 Dinara Safina at the 2009 U.S. Open and had a semifinal run at Wimbledon in 2010 that included wins over Victoria Azarenka and Caroline Wozniacki.
With a sturdy six-foot frame and a lefty hook shot reminiscent of her idol, fellow Czech-native Martina Navratilova, Kvitova, at her best, can bully anyone on the court. She did just that in the 2014 Wimbledon final, stunning Eugenie Bouchard 6–3, 6–0 in just 55 minutes.
But Kvitova can also lose to just about anybody, as she has also showed on many occasions. At the 2014 Australian Open, she lost to No. 87 Luksika Kumkhum in the first round, and was defeated in the third round of the U.S. Open by Aleksandra Krunic, a qualifier ranked No. 145 in the world. (She also lost in the first round of the 2011 U.S. Open to Romania’s Alexandra Dulgheru, becoming the first woman to follow a victory in a major with a first-round loss in the next one.)
She has failed to go beyond the quarterfinals at a major since winning Wimbledon in 2014. At the French Open this year, she fell to No. 108-ranked Shelby Rogers in the third round.
She’s a tremendous talent.
“Anybody who can win Wimbledon twice is pretty good,” says Czech native Ivan Lendl, an eight-time Grand Slam champion. “Some players are consistent and some are more streaky. [Kvitova] plays a high-risk game, but I really like the upside. She’s untouchable when she plays well. Maybe if she became more consistent, she might lose that upside.
“Her life became difficult in 2011 because of pressure and demands on her time,” adds Lendl, who coached Andy Murray to Wimbledon and U.S. Open titles as well as an Olympic gold medal in 2012. “Now she’s gone through all that before, and she can handle it well. She’s a tremendous talent.”
Kvitova was born in March 1990, just months after the Velvet Revolution, the peaceful movement that ended 41 years of communism in Czechoslovakia. It was also four years after Navratilova
returned to her native country to represent her adopted country, the United States, against Czechoslovakia in the 1986 Fed Cup final in Prague. “My father showed me some matches of when she played at Wimbledon,” says Kvitova of Navratilova, who was erased from the Czech record books after she fled. “That’s why she became my idol during those years.”
There was a time, in the early-1970s until the mid-80s, when tennis in Czechoslovakia flourished despite communist limitations. There was Jan Kodes, a two-time French Open and one-time Wimbledon winner. Navratilova led the country to its first Fed Cup championship in 1975, and Helena Sukova and Hana Mandlikova helped capture the Fed Cup three straight years, from 1983 to ’85. In 1988, Jana Novotna and Radka Zrubakova beat a Soviet team led by Larisa Savchenko and Natasha Zvereva. But once Navratilova left, followed not long after by Lendl and Mandlikova, top tennis talent dried up.
Kvitova grew up in Fulnek, a town in the Moravian region that, until 1918, was part of Austria. It was annexed by the Nazis in 1938 only to see the Germans expelled after World War II ended in 1945. The town’s 6,000 residents share four tennis courts, a castle and a sports center. One of those courts was occupied every afternoon by Jiri Kvita, Petra’s father and the town’s deputy mayor, who was also a teacher and self-made tennis coach to Petra’s two older brothers, Jiri and Libov. Due to a lack of family funds, as well as the stifling communist regime, tennis travel was difficult, so the careers of her brothers were stunted. By the time Petra came along, however, things were different.
“I am a lucky person that I was born in 1990,”says Kvitova, who first picked up a racquet at age four and was soon practicing every day with her father, a strict disciplinarian who preferred to see his daughter engaged in athletic pursuits rather than trolling the town.
By the time Petra was 16, however, the father-coach relationship had become strained. To preserve family harmony and prepare for a pro career, Petra relocated to a state-of-the art training center in Prostejov founded by Czech businessman Miroslav Cernosek (who is married to former WTA touring pro Petra Langrova). There, in 2008, Kvitova began working with David Kotyza, an outgoing and reassuring coach who worked with her for more than eight years. Kvitova cut ties with him this February.
“Cernosek is single-handedly responsible for bringing top tennis back to the country,” says Lendl, referring to the club that is also the current training ground for Kvitova’s Fed Cup teammate Lucie Safarova, as well as for Top-10 player Tomas Berdych. “He knows how to raise money and then spends it on the juniors. He has created really good conditions for young players to train.”
So far, Kvitova is the country’s top export. She was ranked No. 2 at the end of 2011 (behind Wozniacki). That same year she stunned fourth-seeded Azarenka and fifth-seeded Sharapova to win Wimbledon and was named WTA Player of the Year. At the start of 2012, she was just one win shy of ascending to No. 1, but a loss to Li Na in the semifinals of Sydney stopped her.
“She’s a very unique player, very talented and special, but very unpredictable,” says Hall of Famer and 1998 Wimbledon champ Novotna. “She’s had some bad losses and, as good as she is, she has no Plan B for when Plan A is not working. There’s just no way that, after winning Wimbledon, you should lose in the first round of your next tournaments.”
“I think it’s amazing that she can play two bad matches and then win Wimbledon,” counters her friend and Fed Cup teammate Andrea Hlavackova. “She’s very calm and doesn’t let things get to her. That is her real strength.”
Fed Cup, just like the lawns of Wimbledon, has been a place where Kvitova shines. She clinched the title for her country in 2014 by fighting back to overcome Angelique Kerber in three tight sets. In 2015, with the Czech team facing Russia for its fourth title in five years, Kvitova notched the first team point by beating Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. But she then fell to Maria Sharapova, forcing her compatriot Pliskova to even the rubber. Kvitova could only watch as Pliskova and Barbora Strycova teamed up to win the deciding doubles rubber.
Since splitting with Kotyza this year because her game "wasn't improving," Kvitova has slipped backward farther, dropping out of the Top 10 after the French Open for the first time since 2011. Her best results this year have been minimal with just two quarterfinal showings (in Indian Wells and Stuttgart). The last match she played was a chaotic loss to Rogers that just didn't make much sense (it was 6-0, 6-7 (3), 6-0).
Lightning has struck twice for Kvitova at the All-England Club. The grass courts may be her best chance to rediscover her footing, as she still hasn't figured it out elsewhere just yet.