WIMBLEDON: Breakthrough of a Generation, Petra Kvitova Wins While Maria Sharapova Folds

 

Petra Kvitova beats Maria Sharapova to win Wimbledon

 

This was the breakthrough of a new generation and the breakdown of a champion. Those things worked together, as Petra Kvitova won Wimbledon Saturday, beating Maria Sharapova 6-3, 6-4. Every major in women’s tennis lately seems to produce a heart-warming story of some emerging 29-year old, or the dominance of someone coming back from retirement/maternity leave. Kvitova becomes the first player born in the 1990s to win a major.

So this is a big welcome to women’s tennis’ Generation Next. It’s about time you’ve arrived. Finally, women’s tennis has something to look forward to instead of something to try to hang onto.

“I like the big, big challenges like this one,’’ Kvitova said in an interview with NBC as she left the court. “I like the final and the big crowd and big matches. It’s, uh, I don’t’ know, I just played my best tennis and I won.’’

Nervous?

“I was nervous before the match. When I came on the court, it was OK.’’

And that described the match perfectly. Kvitova was impressively calm. Sharapova, the experienced one, was a mess.

So much of women’s tennis is about nerve, and which player has more. There is such little variety in the way the women play, that instead of matching up a heavy topspin forehand to someone’s one-handed backhand, or crushing flat shots to someone’s slow, looping strokes, women’s tennis, in general, seems to be about which one bashes best.

The surprising thing, the welcoming thing for a generation, was that a 21-year old who had never been here before, could be so focused. Sharapova, is just 24, but she won Wimbledon seven years ago. Her experience was supposed to be the advantage.

Instead, her serve killed her. Just killed her. It was telling enough that she won the coin toss and chose to let Kvitova serve. But at 2-3 in the first set, 30-all, Sharapova double-faulted. Then, ad-out, she double-faulted again.

That was the set, though Sharapova also double-faulted the first point of her next service game to make three in a row. For the most part, Sharapova did manage to get her second serve in, but they were nervous serves, weak serves. So afraid of missing, she was floating them in. It was as if she were putting the ball on a tee for Kvitova, who would step in and clobber returns.

It’s hard to know what this will mean to Sharapova. When she crushed Serena Williams to win as a 17-year old, everyone thought she would win a bunch of Wimbledons. This was her first time back in the final. She won two more majors, but had shoulder surgery in 2009 and hasn’t been the same since. The shoulder seems to work fine, but she has lost her serve. She has the yips.

Even her serve to be coming back over the past several weeks, but she double-faulted away the semis of the French Open. Now this. Under the biggest pressure, her serve disappeared again, just when one of tennis’ biggest names was finishing a comeback in her career.

“I don’t really see this as a fairy tale even if I would have won it,’’ she said. “It’s a lot of hard work.’’

That has been the great thing about Sharapova, her fight, her relentlessness. But without nerve, she doesn’t offer much. She swings as hard as possible on every shot, and the ball goes in because of her belief.

Kvitova made her pay for her weakness, which only put more and more pressure on Sharapova’s other shots. Kvitova was knocking her backward. She was stronger physically and mentally.

She’s likely to win a lot more majors because she knows how to keep the ball in play, deep, until the right opportunity comes to blast something. But she is prone to long stretches of misses, too.

That’s what Caroline Wozniacki, former leader of Generation Next, is going to rely on. At 20, Wozniacki still will hold the No. 1 ranking, even though she hasn’t won a major. She’s not the best player in the world, and now, not even in her generation. She plays too passively, waiting for an opponent to choke. Kvitova might not provide that for her.

Meanwhile, Victoria Azarenka has been expected to emerge, but she never quite arrives. Sharapova has time to remember how to serve. And in the late 20s group, Serena Williams can still lead if she stays committed and healthy. Kim Clijsters can still win, but looks like she’s ready to retire again. Li Na will contend a little while longer.

We’ll have to see how Kvitova handles success, and whether she can stay consistent for long stretches. But it was so refreshing to see someone play with nerve.

Kvitova has a long run ahead of her. And we finally have something to look forward to.

 

About gregcouch

I can talk tennis all day long, and often do. And yet some of the people I talk to about it might rather I talk about something else. Or with someone else. That’s how it is with tennis, right? Sort of an addiction. Sort of a high. I am a national columnist at FoxSports.com and a FoxSports1 TV insider, and have been a columnist at the Chicago Sun-Times. In 2010, I was the only American sports writer to cover the full two weeks of all four majors, and also to cover each of the U.S. Masters series events. I’ve seen a lot of tennis, talked with a lot of players, coaches, agents. I watched from a few rows behind the line judge as Serena rolled her foot onto the baseline for the footfault, a good call, at the 2009 U.S. Open. I sat forever watching a John Isner marathon, leaving for Wimbledon village to watch an England World Cup soccer game at a pub and then returning for hours of Isner, sitting a few feet from his wrecked coach. I got to see Novak Djokovic and Robin Soderling joke around on a practice court on the middle Sunday at Wimbledon, placing a small wager on a tiebreaker. Djokovic won, and Soderling pulled a bill out of his wallet, crumpled it into his fist and threw it at Djokovic, who unwadded it, kissed it, and told me, “My work is done here.’’ And when Rafael Nadal won the French Open in 2010, I finished my column, walked back out onto the court, and filled an empty tic tac container with the red clay. I’m looking at it right now. Well, I don’t always see the game the same way others do. I can be hard on tennis, particularly on the characters in suits running it. Tennis has no less scandal and dirt than any other game. Yet somehow, it seems to be covered up, usually from an incredible web of conflicts of interest. I promise to always tell the truth as I see it. Of course, I would appreciate it if you’d let me know when I’m wrong. I love sports arguments and hope to be in a few of them with you here. Personal info: One-handed backhand, serve-and-volleyer. View all posts by gregcouch

One response to “WIMBLEDON: Breakthrough of a Generation, Petra Kvitova Wins While Maria Sharapova Folds

  • Jon

    In a previous reply re: the Williams’ defeat I asked what your thoughts on Kvitová’s prospects were, no reply. I’m still baffled since she managed to fly under the radar of all of you tennis “experts” even if she’s managed to put up an impressive season so far. On the other hand, Azarenka, who had never been past the quarters of a Grand Slam before, was a lot of experts’ bet to lift the trophy, that in spite of her proven mental weakness and lack of a plan B whenever the going gets tough. Also, it is quite unfair to label Kvitová as yet another ball-basher: if you’ve seen her play (have you?) you’ll have noticed that she charges the net when needed, slices quite a bit, changes rhythm and has a killer serve as opposed to your typical Bolletieri clone. I think she’s been severely underestimated and underreported thus far, and I’m glad she’s managed to surprise all you “experts” and kill (figuratively, of course) all the boring, ball-bashing shriekers.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: