There are times in every champion’s life when nothing goes according to plan. As the reigning queen of Wimbledon, Petra Kvitova is, understandably, one of the favourites to be in the final of Saturday but there were times – many times – during her 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Francesca Schiavone when it did appear as if her grip on the famous old Venus Rosewater Dish was slipping fast.
It is a duff day at the office that she hopes will not be repeated this coming week – particularly not on Tuesday when she takes on Serena Williams – and it is one she would rather forget.
“From the beginning of the match I didn't have a lot of break balls and I didn't have a very nice feelings,” she sighed. “Really it was not funny for me in that moment. I feel so bad. That's why probably I played so bad.
“And then in the second set, in the beginning of the second set was still similar than before, but when I make the break finally after one hour or however long we played, it was better for me. I knew I can play against her and I can break her.”
Kvitova’s summary of proceedings was neat, short and to the point as on a cold, blustery and damp day; it took her a good two sets to warm up. For the whole of the first set and a large chunk of the second, it did seem that the champion could not hit a barn door at five paces; something needed to be rapidly recalibrated in the ground-strokes department. Still, to be fair to Kvitova, she was, at least being consistent: that which she walloped into the backstop on the forehand side, she immediately duplicated on the backhand. No one could ever accuse her of a lack of balance.
Meanwhile, Schiavone had the bit between her teeth: here was a chance to reach only her second Wimbledon quarter-final if only she could work out a way to take it.
The former French Open champion is a ferocious competitor and holds the record for the longest women’s Grand Slam match when she beat Svetlana Kuznetsova at the Australian Open, 16-14 in the third set after 4hr and 44mins. Giving up, then, is not in her nature.
Without wishing to stray into the dangerous territory of national stereotypes, it has to be said that Schiavone is very Italian. Her game has flair and style while she is emotional, expressive and vocal; extremely vocal when she is serving. With a roar before she hits the ball and grunt once it has left her racket, rapidly followed by a growl whenever she leathers a winner, life with Schiavone is seldom quiet.
It got particularly noisy in the second set as her first serve started to fall apart. From a break up, she was reeled in by Kvitova, aided and abetted by a string of double faults (Schiavone served 13 of them in all) and that added up to an awful lot of roar-grunt combos echoing around No.3 Court.
But what finally did it for Schiavone was the weather. As she hung on like a limpet in the second set, the rain clouds moved in and started to spread that light, misty damp stuff over the grass, more mizzle than drizzle. Everyone stopped and looked. Was it wet enough to stop?
The umpire, Fiona Edwards, seemed to think it was still playable; Kvitova was happy to go on but Schiavone thought the grass was now too greasy for comfort. For several minutes, they sat and watched as the mizzle mizzled.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Edwards said, cheerfully, as she encouraged both women to get back to work. But just a handful of points later – just enough to win Kvitova the second set and take a 1-0 lead in the third – they stopped again. And this time it took a lot more persuading to convince Schiavone that she should go on.
“The grass isn’t dry,” Schiavone pleaded. “I’ll watch you and if you slip, we’ll stop,” Edwards told her. “But it’s not just me,” Schiavone went on, “the ball is slip, too.” Her pleas fell on deaf ears and with a resigned look, the Italian went back to her position on the baseline and failed to win another game.
Realising that this was her moment to pounce, Kvitova started acting like a champion. Just because she had been dragged into a slugging match, it did not mean that the clean hitting and spectacular power that had won her the title last summer had suddenly evaporated and paying due attention to detail, she managed to cut down on the errors, ramp up the winner count and stride purposefully into the quarter-finals.