Qualifying begins: 26 June
The Draw: 30 June
Pre-event Press Conferences: 1 & 2 July
Order of Play: 2 July
Championships begin: 3 July
COME BACK FOR LIVE SCORES & LIVE BLOG FROM 26 JUNE
Time and again, one question above all others is put to the sporting elite: “How do you feel?” In confident victory or diffident defeat, the enquiry is the same. And then along comes a set of circumstances, utterly unforeseen, to redefine that question like never before.
Petra Kvitova has faced that query a lot of late, and will continue to hear it for a good while yet for reasons that have nothing to do with her status as favourite for the title here.
On day one of Wimbledon 2017, the two-time champion of SW19 described herself as “very happy” to beat the world No.53 Johanna Larsson 6-3, 6-4; and perhaps to unknowing eyes her first round victory might have appeared as routine this year as any other since she first lifted the Venus Rosewater Dish here in 2011.
But the fact is that there can have been no unknowing eyes on Centre Court, or anywhere else on Planet Tennis witnessing this match; and that being the case, this so-called routine win was anything but.
If it needs to be said, then here it is: it is a little over six months since the 27-year-old left-hander sustained career-threatening injuries to her dominant hand in a knife attack at her Prostejov home in the Czech Republic. It was March before she picked up a racket again, and it is possible that her playing hand may never recover fully. Yet there was a further consequence from these events, and that was the change to her competitive mindset.
She finds herself experiencing something of a mental dichotomy. On the one hand, she has found a sense of blithe release which it is difficult to imagine achieving by any other means – the feeling that tennis, which has dominated her life, is not so important after all. But, simultaneously, she is also aware how much she missed her calling when was unable to play. She has a new sense of gratitude for her talent, and a corresponding desire to maximise its potential.
She is attempting to untangle all these feelings at a time when her day-to-day recovery, both mental and physical, continues.
It was very special for me to feel the energy from the crowd again
Moreover, the relentless chorus of how-do-you-feel means she must also find a way to articulate her feelings in public, disclosing as much or as little as is most fruitful for her recovery – and, as a secondary consideration, her competitive mindset.
She was surely wise to make her comeback at Roland Garros in May, getting the first great avalanche of how-do-you-feel questions out of the way in time for her favoured grass court season.
Kvitova arrived at Wimbledon as, remarkably, the anointed favourite for the ladies’ title thanks to her frankly astonishing triumph on Birmingham’s grass last month, although she was obliged to withdraw from Eastbourne with an abdominal injury.
In contrast to her first round win at Roland Garros, where she opened up with a string of winners, here she lost her opening serve with the aid of three double faults in one game. As the match progressed she showed more than a few glimpses of a champion’s form, but it must be remembered that this is just her eighth match back on court, and she may surely be granted some hesitation. Touchingly, among those invited into her players’ box was Dr Radek Kebrle, the surgeon who operated on her left hand after the attack.
“It was very special, I have to say,” said Kvitova, after the win. When we came on the court, I know British crowd, but today I feel a little bit different. They scream a little bit more than they normally do. It was very special for me to feel the energy from the crowd again. It was through the match all the time. So it was beautiful to be back playing my game, on the beautiful Centre Court. I couldn't wish for more.
“I was nervous and a bit tight, and I need to improve. My expectations from this point on? To stand up on Wednesday in the second round and just play as well as I can. I don't look too far ahead. I'm not really thinking that I'm the favourite for the tournament. I'm still underground, just playing as well as I can.”
One of these days, in a time we cannot quite yet see, Kvitova will be asked how she feels without any implicit reference to the events of last December. But for now the ongoing public assessment – match by match, moment by moment – will continue; and tough as it must be for her to navigate, there is a sense in which that assessment is a salute to her. For a long time yet, every ordinary victory that Kvitova creates – just like this one over Larsson, whom she had beaten in all four of their previous career meetings – will be momentous.
All champions are extraordinary. A two-time Wimbledon champion is more extraordinary still. But Petra Kvitova is a class apart, and 12 days hence her story may become more astounding yet.