WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — One might reasonably have expected Petra Kvitova, not Maria Sharapova, to be betrayed by nerves in the Wimbledon final.
This was, after all, Kvitova’s first Grand Slam championship match, while Sharapova already owned three major titles, including one from the All England Club. So Kvitova decided to pretend she was heading out on Centre Court to play in the fourth round.
That mindset worked. So, too, did nearly everything Kvitova tried once play began, particularly her big, flat left-handed groundstrokes that pushed Sharapova back on her heels. In a surprisingly lopsided final, Kvitova beat the higher-seeded, yet shakier, Sharapova 6-3, 6-4 Saturday to win Wimbledon for her first Grand Slam trophy.
“I was surprised how I was feeling on the court,” Kvitova said, “because I was focused only on the point and on the game and not on the final.”
If there were those who wondered how the eighth-seeded Kvitova would handle the setting and the pressure, her coach did not.
Indeed, David Kotyza had an inkling his new pupil possessed the right stuff to win titles shortly after they began working together about 2½ years ago. That’s because he was wowed by the several pages of handwritten answers Kvitova supplied for a questionnaire he gave her back then — and has kept to this day.
“I was really surprised about how she thinks about tennis, how clever she is. She told me her advantages, disadvantages, what she has to improve,” Kotyza said, then pointed a finger to his temple and added: “Her brain is a big advantage for this game.”
When she was a kid growing up in Fulnek, Czech Republic — population: 6,000 — and practicing an hour or so after school each day, Kvitova didn’t count on becoming a professional tennis player. She simply wasn’t that good, yet. Clearly, she’s a quick study.
Before Wimbledon in 2010, Kvitova’s career record on grass was 0-4. She is 16-2 on the slick surface since, including a run to the semifinals here last year before losing to Serena Williams.
At 21, Kvitova is the youngest Wimbledon champion since — you guessed it — Sharapova was 17 in 2004. Kvitova is also the first Czech to win the tournament since Jana Novotna in 1998.
Plus, Kvitova is only the third left-handed woman to win the grass-court Grand Slam tournament. The last was Martina Navratilova, who won her ninth Wimbledon title in 1990, a few months after Kvitova was born.
“I’m thrilled for her. She played brave tennis, and she deserved to win. She was by far the better player,” said Navratilova, who was born in Czechoslovakia and sat near Novotna in the Royal Box on Saturday. “I don’t think this is the only time she’ll win here. It’s very exciting. A new star.”
That last phrase was being uttered by many people around the grounds after Kvitova managed to make Sharapova look rather ordinary.
Consider: Until Saturday, Sharapova had won all 12 sets she played over the last two weeks. But, as Sharapova’s coach Thomas Hogstedt summed up afterward: “One played well. The other didn’t play well. Maria didn’t play as good as she can.”
That was, at least in part, Kvitova’s doing.
She compiled 19 winners, most by zipping her heavy forehands and backhands from the baseline, where her 6-foot frame and long arms helped her get to seemingly out-of-reach balls.
“She created offensive opportunities from tough positions on the court,” Sharapova said. “Sometimes it’s just too good.”
Kvitova also broke Sharapova five times, anticipating where serves were headed.
It helped that Sharapova double-faulted six times, although at least those were fewer than the 13 the Russian hit in the semifinals.
“She performed incredible. Sometimes, when you don’t know what to expect and you don’t know how you’re going to feel, sometimes you play your best, because you have that feeling of nothing to lose,” said the fifth-seeded Sharapova, who was playing in a major final for the first time since right shoulder surgery in October 2008. “She went for it, absolutely.”
What really was odd was seeing the experienced and normally gritty Sharapova bothered by distractions such as the swarms of tiny greenflies that showed up Saturday or the occasional clap or yell that came from the stands during points.
Even more stunning was the way Sharapova crumpled at key moments. One example: She double-faulted twice in a row to lose serve and fall behind 4-2 in the first set. Sharapova turned her back to the court and gave herself a little lecture, then smacked herself on her left palm with her racket.
Kvitova — now 4-1 in tournament finals this year — broke again to begin the second set, capping that game with a running forehand that caught the back edge of the baseline. The women exchanged four consecutive breaks in the middle of that set, before Kvitova — not Sharapova — gathered herself.
Ahead 4-3, but trailing 15-30 while serving, Kvitova hit three straight service winners to get to 5-3.
“She served quite hard. Her second serve was pretty big as well. She was going for it, for the second serve,” Sharapova said. “I felt like I could have reacted a little bit better.”
Credit Kvitova also for being at her steadiest in the most resolve-testing moments. She served out both sets at love, including with a 105 mph ace on match point.
What was running through her head right then?
“I have to do it now,” she would say later.
After that last point — one last nerve-free point — Kvitova raised both arms, then dropped to her knees. A raucous celebration ensued in her guest box, including some overzealous chest-bumping that left one man knocked off his feet. Kvitova’s allotted seats were completely filled — with her coach, parents, two brothers and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, among others — while Sharapova’s section had only her agent, coach, hitting partner and fiance, New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic.
“When you lose in the final, you feel like the biggest loser in a way, but Maria is on the right track. She’s working hard,” Vujacic said. “She needed a lot of time to come back, and I think if she stays on the same road, there are many good things ahead of us.”
Now there will be similar expectations of Kvitova.
Kotyza, her coach, said Kvitova’s best quality probably is that “she’s just an ordinary girl. She’s standing with both feet on the ground. And I think it’s very, very important for ... these matches. Because she’s ‘OK, just hit the ball, and we will see.’”
Asked after Saturday’s victory when she first realized she might one day win a Grand Slam title, Kvitova smiled, tucked some strands of hair behind her ear and replied: “Probably yesterday.”