Make way for the latest Czech tennis star

by | The Sports Xchange/

WIMBLEDON, England -- Czech, mate. The new generation from the land of the Martinas and Janas has arrived. Prodigiously.

Petra Kvitova found splendor on the grass Saturday, a surprise winner of the Wimbledon women's singles title, 6-3, 6-4 over one-time champion Maria Sharapova. Then again, considering Kvitova's strength, length (she's 6 feet tall) and youth (she's 21), maybe it wasn't a surprise.

Petra Kvitova wins the Wimbledon title with countrywomen Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna in the crowd. (AP)  
Petra Kvitova wins the Wimbledon title with countrywomen Martina Navratilova and Jana Novotna in the crowd. (AP)  
Martina Navratilova, also a lefty, also born in then what was Czechoslovakia and now an American citizen, watched Kvitova along with another Czech champ, Jana Novotna, from the Royal Box and cheered as past and present united.

Navratilova had all but predicted Kvitova, (pronounced Kuh-VIT-uh-vuh) would produce what could be considered an upset -- Sharapova previously had won Wimbledon and the Australian and U.S. Opens, while Kvitova was playing in her first Grand Slam final.

However, with Sharapova battling her way back after rotator cuff surgery in October 2008 and Kvitova looking sharp as she moved through higher-seeded opponents, the result also could have been understandable.

It was for Navratilova, the nine-time singles champ in the 1980s and early '90s.

"I think Petra will return better, and it will be easier to hold serve," Navratilova said after the semifinals on Thursday. "That lefty serve will pay off more. I think Maria probably has the best return in the game. With the serves, I think Kvitova will get on top of the rally a little bit earlier than Maria."

Kvitova's serve was broken in the first game of the match, but Sharapova was broken the second game. Then, when Sharapova double-faulted four serves in succession to lose the sixth game and fall behind 2-4, you sensed the new kid was taking over.

A year ago, Kvitova reached the Wimbledon semis, only to lose to eventual champion Serena Williams. It was her introduction. Now she's a star, the first of a foursome of emerging stars -- No. 1 seed Caroline Wozniacki, Victoria Azarenka and Sabine Lisicki are the others -- to get a Slam championship.

"She performed incredible," Navratilova said of Kvitova. The words were the echoes of those when Maria won Wimbledon in 2004, as a 17-year-old.

"Sometimes," said Sharapova, "when you don't know what to expect, and you don't know how you're going to feel, you play your best because you have the feeling you have nothing to lose."

Women's tennis, in a stew with the decline of the Williams sisters and the injury to Kim Clijsters, had plenty to lose. It needs an attraction, someone able to get on Letterman and Leno as well as get on a winning streak.

More on Wimbledon

Sharapova has enough beauty and enough pretension to fulfill that role.

After all, she already had the Nike and Canon commercials, and although she's Russian she has been in the United States seemingly forever. That she now resides in Celebrity Land, Southern California, and is engaged to Sasha Vujacic of the New Jersey Nets is to her -- and her sport's -- advantage.

But as happy as Sharapova was to get back in the sunshine at Centre Court for the first time in five years -- she made it to the semis in '05 and '06 after winning -- this was Kvitova's final. Top-spin forehands are a universal language.

"It's something unbelievable," said Kvitova, whose English, although improving, is hard to understand and invariably interrupted every few seconds by a giggle.

Asked the innocuous, and unneeded question, if this was the best tennis of her life, she answered, "I think so. Yeah. Of course. It's something unbelievable [to] be in the final at Wimbledon."

Then someone wanted to know Kvitova's thoughts about Sharapova, who to her credit fought back from 0-2 to tie 2-2 in the second set and then couldn't hang on.

"She has experience," Kvitova said. "She has an advantage in this. But we played [previously] and I lost, so now I have to beat her."

She did with a flourish -- a love final game and a thundering ace as the ultimate point. Afterward, as seemingly required of all champions, she fell backward to the well-worn grass, where Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic will play in the men's final.

"Today she created offensive opportunities from tough positions on the court," said Sharapova of her opponent. Sometimes it's just too good. She was hitting winners from all over the court. She made a defensive shot into an offensive one."

This much could be pried from Kvitova: "On the important points I played well. I made the important points. ... Sometimes my serve wasn't good, so I have to keep mentally good." After the victory, after being handed the traditional trophy, the Venus Rosewater Dish, she talked to her Czech predecessors as champions, Navratilova and Novotna.

"They were so happy," said Kvitova. "I cried after I met them."


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