It's an understandable dilemma after any player wins their first Grand Slam. Once they've tasted the sweet nectar of success how can they replicate it? And once they've wrapped their hands around the game's top trophy, how can anything less be satisfying? Those are the questions Petra Kvitova has been asking for the last two and a half years, after winning Wimbledon in 2011 at just 21 years old. As she returns to defend her title at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this week, Kvitova is hoping the tournament kick starts her season once again.
"I have great memories from the last year," Kvitova said about Dubai in a telephone interview from Doha. "It was pretty tough matches last year but I gained some confidence. For me it was also very important after a bad start of the season to go there again. It's a beautiful venue and a great crowd."
Not unlike last year, Kvitova comes into Dubai looking for a boost after a shocking first round loss at the Australian Open to Thailand's Luksika Kumkhum. Illness forced her to withdraw from Paris and skip Fed Cup duties as well. She didn't get back to practicing until the Wednesday before Doha and admitted she was still under the weather there. But she bounced back to notch two hard-earned wins over Venus Williams and Lucie Safarova before running out of gas against Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals. She says her confidence level coming into the WTA's Middle Eastern swing is about the same as it was last year - not great, but not bad either.
"I didn't have the good results in Melbourne but before I played good matches and I think I feel more relaxed this year."
Kvitova's confidence doesn't simply come from match wins and titles, but from her level of play. Never one to give a false assessment of her performance, Kvitova knows that when she's playing well she can beat anyone and her goal is to find that level on a daily basis. Last year she played a fantastic match against Serena Williams in Doha, building a 4-1 lead in the final set before the American came storming back to win 36 63 75 in the quarterfinals. The loss buoyed Kvitova's confidence heading into Dubai, where she rolled to the title, defeating Sara Errani 62 16 61 for her first title in six months.
"My start of the year wasn't great last year and I think the matches I played in Doha, especially against Serena, gave me confidence for sure because until that time I was really struggling and I wasn't confident enough for these matches," Kvitova said. "So then I felt a little bit better on the court in Dubai and I was enjoying everything and thinking positively more than before. For me it wasn't just about the title in Dubai, but something more."
That "something more" is the confidence she needs to continue her march towards a second major title. Kvitova says she doesn't have any concrete goals when it comes to rankings or number of titles she'd like to win this year, though she would be pleased if she could finish in the Top 8 and qualify for the WTA Championships, which are moving to Singapore this fall. No, as the youngest active Slam champion, Kvitova's goals continue to be much loftier.
"My goal is to have better results at the Grand Slams, which was missing last year," she said. Since making the semifinals of the French Open in 2012, Kvitova has not progressed past the quarterfinals at the majors. "Still missing after the one Slam of the year already, but I still have three more chances. I'm still believing and I have motivation so I hope I can have a good result again."
In the meantime her focus is in fine-tuning her game and getting a result that can put her Australian Open stumble out of mind. She is looking forward to returning to Dubai not only to compete, but to help build the tennis tradition in Dubai and help change the sporting culture for women.
"I hope they will play tennis here," Kvitova said. "Especially maybe the women because we know the women here don't have a big respect. I don't know how it is for them but we are trying to do our best here."
~ Courtney Nguyen is a freelance tennis writer based in Northern California. She is the blogger behind Sports Illustrated's Beyond the Baseline and co-host of the No Challenges Remaining podcast.