Petra Kvitova is back in a Grand Slam decider for the first time in five years, and the enormity of the achievement was just starting to sink in. “It’s been a long journey,” she said. “I’m still not really believing that I’m in the final …”.
The Czech has been through plenty of mental and physical anguish over the past few years, but qualified for her first major final since she won Wimbledon in 2014 by dispatching Danielle Collins in straight sets on Thursday afternoon.
Naomi Osaka, who ousted Karolina Pliskova in the other semifinal, now stands between the 28-year-old and a third major title on Saturday.
“It’s been a while. It’s been five years. That’s why I worked pretty hard to be back there. It just tastes very great,” said Kvitova, who can become world No.1 for the first time by capturing the Australian Open title.
“To be honest, I think not very many people believe that I could do that again, to stand on the court and play tennis and kind of play on this level. It was just really few of them, I think (that believed).
“I’m very happy to have those few around me.”
The road back to the top for Kvitova has been long, and one with significant challenges. In December 2016, Kvitova suffered a knife attack at home in Prague, which left her playing left hand severely damaged.
Those people who “believed,” the ones Kvitova wants to reward with the trophy on Saturday night, helped the world No.6 regain her game and – more importantly – her confidence.
“It’s kind of weird, to be honest, as I didn’t know even if I gonna play tennis again,” revealed Kvitova, who remarkably returned to court with a second-round showing at the French Open in 2017.
“It wasn’t only physically but mentally was very tough, as well. It took me really while to believe, to the people around me again, and especially to the men, for sure.
“I wasn’t pretty confident to be alone somewhere. I do remember coming first time I was alone in the locker room in Prague in the club, and I came to my team and said, ‘Well, it was first time I was alone there.’
“It was a lot of work with the hand. It was lot of recovery, treatment. I just set up the mind that I really wanted to come back, and I just did everything.”
That persistence and positivity paid off. Last year marked a return to form for Kvitova with five titles and a surge back up the rankings into the top five, but long runs deep into major tournaments proved elusive.
The 2017 US Open quarterfinals were her furthest run at a major, and she didn’t advance past the first week at all four Slams last year.
Now that can all be forgotten with Kvitova back in a major final.
“Those (Grand Slam) losses felt pretty long. I had two highlights. When I reached the quarterfinal US Open and I think last year was OK in the US (third round).
“For the mental side it wasn’t really easy to kind of deal with that every time coming to the Grand Slam and losing. Maybe that’s why it’s probably sweeter now.”
Kvitova arrived in Melbourne after winning the Sydney International title and in fine shape physically, with an abundance of pace and agility on court complimenting her rocket power.
“I just think that it was just more about the amount of it, more weights, more running, more hours with training than I was able to do it before. I don’t think I did anything specifically differently,” added Kvitova.
“Of course it’s helping my mentality, and I know I can catch more balls, I can be there longer time. Even if it’s heat, I’m able to be there and run and fight whatever is happening. Definitely everything is together. It’s very connected. I’m happy for that.”
Osaka, who has never faced Kvitova, will need to be wary as the Czech has won her past eight finals, including the Sydney earlier this month. For her career, she’s 25-7 in title deciders.
“I think it feels better to knowing kind of this, that I do have better percentage of winning than losing in the final,” Kvitova said.
“Every final is different, because every time is just different opponent or different place or time.
“I really love playing finals. I love playing on the big stages. It will be one of them.”