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The Czech women: a tale of inspiration and friendship

Lucie Safarova hugs Petra Kvitova at net after their match
by Vivienne Christie
Friday 4 July 2014

They say, in sport, that nothing breeds success like success. And never has that proven truer than in the standout performances of Czech women at the 2014 Championships.

An impressive nine Czechs contested the ladies' singles event, with an unprecedented four of them still standing when the field narrowed to the final 16. The semi-final between Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova marked the first between two Czech women in a Grand Slam event.

“Good, right?” beamed Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, who’d done her part for Czech tennis with a third round upset of Li Na in the second round. “We are great. It seems like we feel good on grass. I’m very happy. We’re such a small country. We have really good players.”

Inspired by the achievements of Martina Navratilova and Ivan Lendl in the past, Czech players are now spurring each other along in the most practical ways. Kvitova and Safarova have long trained at the same Prostejov club and at Wimbledon this past fortnight, Tereza Smitkova has been a warm-up partner.

Smitkova, a No.175-ranked qualifier and aged just 19, upset a string of higher-ranked opponents to become the final member of that history-making quartet – bettering the performances of the five Czech men in the opposite draw, where none advanced beyond the third round.

“Four Czechs into the second week and none of them are named Berdych – it’s amazing,” Prague-born Navratilova, a nine-time Wimbledon women’s singles champion, commented earlier in the week, referencing the early exit of No.6 seed and 2010 finalist Tomas Berdych.

Perhaps most amazing is that Czech players compete so well at the All England Club, despite the absence of grass courts in their home nation. Ahead of the semi-final with Kvitova, Safarova explained that having to manage the difficult climate has helped.

“Tennis has a huge tradition in the Czech Republic. It’s a very popular sport and we are used to changing surfaces, because in the winter we are playing indoors,” she said.

“You kind of change and they are very different, they are fast surfaces indoors. Obviously clay is through the summer. I think it kind of makes you adapt to different surfaces and we are usually players who are playing really fast and aggressive. So that’s the key to how to play on grass well, so I think it fits.”

Team spirit is undoubtedly a factor too. The winners of the Fed Cup in 2011 and 2012, the Czech Republic will have a chance to claim another title when they meet Germany in the final in November.

Safarova says that watching her friend and Fed Cup teammate Kvitova claim the 2011 Wimbledon title provided a motivating boost in her own career.

“I know Petra since she was 14 and we are from the same club so I saw her growing and I saw her achieving those great results,” she explained. “It’s also motivating to see that somebody who is so close to you is reaching the best results. I think that yes, it’s motivating for you to try to make it too.”

Safarova could hardly be disappointed, then, as her stunning campaign ended to Kvitova at Wimbledon. “She's my friend, so once the match was done I just wished her all the best,” she said. “I hope she's going to win it.”

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