Petra Kvitova, who could leave Melbourne Park as the new world number one, tells The Tennis Space about “losing her privacy” and “battling” with fame after winning Wimbledon.
You can be sure of one thing – she is not about to turn into a great fireball of fame, celebrity boyfriends, magazine photo-shoots, ego, vanity, paranoia and insecurities. Petra Kvitova is letting others get on with being famous and fabulous. Anyone who watched the prize-giving ceremony on Wimbledon’s Centre Court last summer was left with the suspicion that there were ball-girls out there on the grass with more guile, artifice and hair-spray than the woman holding the Venus Rosewater Dish.
When Kvitova becomes the world number one this year – barring injury, or a death-spiral in form, she will move above Caroline Wozniacki, and maybe as soon as after the Australian Open – she will remain an unpolished, unaffected young lady from the Czech Republic. An unaffected young lady who can clump the ball, who has won Wimbledon, and who finished 2011 by taking the title at the season-ending championships in Istanbul, but an unaffected young lady all the same. One who drives a Skoda, who considers herself a “jeans and T-shirt sort of girl”.
Become the women’s world number one, and people will tell you what you are not, what you lack, what your deficiencies are. With Wozniacki, the problem was that she had not won a grand slam title, an omission which she was forever told was devaluing the office she held. With Kvitova, there will be two avenues of attack. One will be the shriek she makes after she plays her shot, a sound which someone sitting courtside in Istanbul likened to a pterodactyl’s cry. The other will be that she does not carry herself like a star, that she is not backlit by her own celebrity status. The first is a PR concern (grunting is a turn-off for the tennis public, and Wozniacki has called it cheating), but the other should not be. Do we really want all our tennis players to always have one eye on building a brand, a profile and a portfolio of off-court endorsements? Nothing wrong with that, of course, but joining the international Hello-ocracy isn’t for everyone, and it certainly isn’t for Kvitova. It would be inaccurate to even call Kvitova a reluctant superstar. Reluctant, yes, but she’s not exactly a superstar anyway, and she’s just fine with that. It looks as though she is about to become a low-wattage world number one.
The unease that Kvitova, 21 years old and the world number two, felt after the Czech press scuffled around in her private life and named her (younger) boyfriend was instructive. And in some contrast to how Wozniacki and Maria Sharapova display their respective trophy men, the golfer Rory McIlroy and the NBA basketball player Sasha Vujacic. “I was sad and astonished,” Kvitova said of the tabloid disclosure. “It was a brand new situation for me being a grand slam champion. You cannot prepare for that in your mind. You have to go through it first. You have to battle with it. It was a totally new experience for me, and I found that a bit stressful. I had to try to concentrate on my game. I am recognised by many people now, many more than before Wimbledon, and my privacy has been partly lost. Strangers know my name, say hello and ask for my photo and autograph. But, for me as a human being, nothing has changed. I’m still the same person I was. I’m a normal girl, like all the other girls my age, I think. I go to the cinema and chat with my friends.”
At the start of 2011, Kvitova was ranked outside the top 30, and she only had any great public standing in Fulnek, a small town “with 6,000 people, four tennis courts, a football pitch and a castle” (and where her father Jiri, who is best known for chest-bumping everyone in sight on Centre Court, is the deputy major”). Life has changed since then, after defeating the honeyed and moneyed Sharapova in the Wimbledon final, but not because Kvitova wants it to. Though, on returning to the Czech Republic last summer, she was lent a private jet, and she met the president, there was no great celebration. “There was nothing special as I’m not a party girl. I was with all my family and some of my friends came to stay and chat for the whole weekend,” she said. Just try to imagine Sharapova, Wozniacki or Serena Williams marking a Wimbledon victory with a sleepover. Though Kvitova won more than a million pounds at the All England Club, and then another seven-figure sum in Istanbul in October, she is not one for grand purchases. “I didn’t buy myself anything and I’m not planning to in the near-future either. I love what I have. I’ve been living all the time in a town called Prostejov, where I’ve been practising, and that’s the best for me.” So Monaco can wait.
Had the left-handed Kvitova not had such mediocre results in the weeks after Wimbledon – there was a first-round defeat at the US Open – she would already be world number one. Though her game is better suited to grass, she could also do well on the hard courts of Melbourne Park. Kvitova likes to attack, to go for her shots, and when she is striking the ball well, she can beat anyone. “For sure the Wimbledon grass is my favourite surface, but I do believe I am able to play on the same level on the other surfaces. I will be preparing myself to be ready at the highest possible level at the Australian Open,” she said. The next few days could bring about an elevation in status. Kvitova is a fine tennis player, but nothing much as a celebrity. Doubtless she will let others worry about whether that matters or not.