EASTBOURNE, Great Britain - Less than 24 hours after her triumphant victory at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, an exhausted Petra Kvitova could still hardly believe she had won her 20th career title in just her second tournament of 2017 after six months away from the sport.
"Yesterday when we were in the car I was still thinking it was not really normal what happened," she told WTA Insider in Eastbourne. "I couldn't still believe it."
Kvitova pulled out of the Aegon International citing an abdominal strain, but nonetheless made a stunning start to her grass court campaign. Enduring a severe left hand injury following a home invasion, the two-time Wimbledon winner rolled through a tough field that included an in-form Kristina Mladenovic and a surging Ashleigh Barty who pushed her to three sets on Sunday's final.
"It was happiness. It was unreal. Nobody probably expected that. Me either. Especially when I came there to just have some good preparation, to have some matches, I didn't really expect to be in the final."
Kvitova sat down with WTA Insider to talk about everything from the support she's receieved from fellow players, how she's changed since winning her first WTA title as a teenager, and how she plans to prepare for her favorite Grand Slam tournament:
WTA Insider: Petra, it’s been a day since you won the title. Have your thoughts or feelings from what you did last week changed, or have you just been sleeping?
Kvitova: (laughs) Not really, actually. Yesterday, when we were in the car, I was thinking how it wasn’t really normal, what happened. I still couldn’t believe it. Today, I’m really tired, so I’m more in a sleeping mood all day. In a couple of days, I think I’ll see it a bit clearer than right now.
WTA Insider: What were the emotions yesterday: relief? Happiness? How would you describe how you felt when you dropped that racquet?
Kvitova: It was happiness. It was kind of unreal, so I was surprised. But mostly, it was was happiness. Nobody probably expected this; me either! That was something really special, because I came there for some good preparation and have some matches. I didn’t really expect to be in the final, but once I was there, I thought, ‘Ok, I’m pretty close,’ and that’s why I got a little bit nervous as well. Still, I’m glad I could turn it in the match, and it was nice.
WTA Insider: And you just got a high-five from [Katarina] Srebotnik, but what has the player reaction been like? On Twitter, there were quite a few people sending messages; what’s it been like here in Eastbourne?
Kvitova: There were so many great and nice messages from the players and the people around. I had so many texts on my phone as well. The players are telling me, ‘Well done,’ and, ‘It’s nice to see you back.’ I think they’re really happy, actually. It sounds weird, but I’m a bit surprised, as well, because tennis is an individual sport. But they’re not just my opponents, they’re my colleagues, and kind of a family as well.
WTA Insider: Simona Halep was in press earlier, and talking a lot about you, saying how happy she was for you. Most players keep to themselves with their own team and schedules, but this has to feel like a collective group hug from everyone in this comeback.
Kvitova: It’s tough to describe it. It’s a sport, it’s tennis, and everyone is just curious about the game and focusing on results. But when something happens, it’s not about tennis anymore and it’s about life, and everyone sticks together. I sent a text to Simona and she sent me one yesterday. It’s nice that we have nice relationships, and that we respect each other on tour. Angie texted me too. It’s just great to know these people and I’m happy for that, for sure.
WTA Insider: Did you feel like you were this beloved before everything happened? Have you been surprised by the reaction and outpouring of support?
Kvitova: It’s tough to say. When it happened in December, I got so many messages from people wishing me all the best. In that time, I wasn’t that surprised, but it was very nice. It happened, but there was still a lot of it. It was really special. What happened at the French Open and again in Birmingham was a huge reaction again. It’s kind of a fairytale or something like that, an unbelievable story. When I’m watching it or hearing about it, I don’t think that it’s me. It’s like something that happened to someone else! But it’s a great story, and people are really connecting to it.
WTA Insider: The WTA put out a video celebrating your 20 titles, photos of you holding the trophies. It made me realize how we’ve seen you really grow up on tour. Does 20 titles feel like a lot, or like it’s been a long time since your first win?
Kvitova: It feels like I started a long time ago. My first ITF was when I was 17, and then WTA, when I was 18 or 19. I feel like it’s been a long time; I won the Hobart when I was 19 and that was my first tournament. That feels like a lifetime ago. Twenty is not a bad number, for sure, and I’m actually proud of myself as well. I never expected so many titles, and I think it’s still growing. I play well, right?
WTA Insider: How does the Petra from your first title compare to the one 20 titles later?
Kvitova: A lot, I think. I was shy. I’m still shy, but I handle it better, somehow. On the court, it was a big process. When I was young, I was hungry to win, focusing on myself, and just playing on instinct. There was a time later where I was thinking too much about the game, and it was tough to handle the pressure. It was a really up and down in the career; I think everyone has that. Now, it’s totally different, to be back after this last moment. But it was a long trip, and a long way to 20 titles. It’s interesting.
WTA Insider: Looking forward to Wimbledon, are you doing the same routine? What’s your plan?
Kvitova: I had to pull out of Eastbourne because of my abdominal injury, but otherwise, I’ll do everything the same. I have a house in Wimbledon Village; it’s a different one compared to other years. For me, Wimbledon is such a special place. I will try to feel confident every time, try to enjoy the moment. I’m enjoying tennis even more than before.
WTA Insider: Do you think what happened in Birmingham changes anything for you, or how you think about Wimbledon?
Kvitova: I won’t feel too different from before. No expectations, and I won’t change anything in my game, as well. I’m glad I was able to turn a match from a set down; that helped me. I’m going there to play and do what I can, but I’m not really seeing myself as a favorite or anything like that.
Hear the full interview with Kvitova courtesy of the WTA Insider Podcast: