After less than six months away from the WTA Tour, Petra Kvitova made her return in the first round of the French Open this year. Ahead of Wimbledon 2017 our tennis expert, Dan Weston, looks at the impact she can have at the grass court Grand Slam and subsequently during the hard court season that follows. Read on to find out more.
December 20, 2016 was a dark day for WTA Tennis. Petra Kvitova was severely injured by a burglar during a robbery in her apartment, suffering extensive damage to her dominant left hand during the attack. This kind of damage meant a quick return to her profession was unlikely but against the odds, Kvitova will play at this year’s Wimbledon. The question is, how long will it take to reach her past performance levels?
Kvitova's surprise return
In a surprise press conference a few days before the event, Petra Kvitova announced that she would participate in the French Open. In truth, her participation was probably confirmed several hours previously with her inclusion in the draw, and after defeating 25-year-old American Julia Boserup in the opening round, she was defeated in two tiebreaks by Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Kvitova has a combined 123.0% hold/break percentage on grass over the last three years, equating to elite level.
Following this return to the WTA Tour, Kvitova described this as ‘winning her biggest fight’. With such a strong mentality, it is quite reasonable to suggest that Kvitova had little to lose at the French Open, and the timing of her comeback - on her weakest surface (clay) - would suggest that she was looking for an event where expectations were low.
It is fair to suggest that Kvitova has never been quite at an elite level on clay. Prior to this year’s event, she was 20-8 at Roland Garros in her career; a record which is relatively mediocre for a top-level competitor, with her best showing a run to the semi-finals in 2012.
While this record sounds reasonable without being particularly spectacular, it is worth mentioning that all five of the opponents she beat en route to that semi-final were ranked outside the top 60. Kvitova is an unimpressive 7-10 against top 10 opponents on clay throughout her career, and 0-2 at the French Open.
However, Kvitova did manage to get some solid court time in Paris, and this served her well on grass immediately; storming to victory in the Birmingham Premier event last week with the loss of just one set, in the final against the immensely promising Australian player, Ash Barty.
A worthy favourite for Wimbledon 2017?
There is little doubt that - conversely to clay - grass is Kvitova’s best surface; with the extra pace benefiting her serve-orientated style. This is superbly illustrated by her hold percentage on grass, which is a stellar 86.8% in the last three years, and with Kvitova breaking opponents 36.2% on the surface in this time period she has a combined 123.0% hold/break percentage, equating to elite level.
The Czech has a 36-16 record on hard court in the last 24 months, holding serve 75.6% and breaking opponents 39.0% (combined 114.6%)
Indeed, at a current 5.330* to win Wimbledon, Kvitova is the pre-draw favourite for the title at Pinnacle, narrowly ahead of Karolina Pliskova, at 5.890, and the grass court Grand Slam will evoke positive memories for the left-hander having taken the title in 2011 and 2014. Assuming she can overcome a minor abdominal injury picked up in the final against Barty in Birmingham, Kvitova will be in excellent shape for SW19 next week.
What does the rest of the season have in store?
Following Wimbledon, attention turns to the hard court season, with high-profile events in Toronto and Cincinnati in advance of the US Open at the end of August, followed by several Premier events in China and then the end of season finals in Singapore.
Assuming Kvitova stays fit she will definitely be a threat in these events. The Czech has a 36-16 record on hard court in the last 24 months, holding serve 75.6% and breaking opponents 39.0% (combined 114.6%), although it is worth making the point that these numbers - particularly on serve - are not nearly as impressive as her grass court data.
With this in mind, it is clear that grass is Kvitova’s best surface by some distance, and it is far from inconceivable that if she was to take a third Wimbledon title, she would then be over-rated by the market subsequently on hard court, where her numbers are more solid than spectacular.
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