LONDON, Great Britain - Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova shrugged off a slow start to defeat Kristina Mladenovic, 7-5, 6-2 and reach the third round of Wimbledon for the first time since 2015.
Kvitova last hoisted the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2014, and rounded into similar form towards the end of a one hour and 25 minute victory over the former World No.10 on No.1 Court.
The big-hitting Czech star was fresh off of a decisive win over Nature Valley International semifinalist Ons Jabeur in what was her first match since retiring from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia and withdrawing from Roland Garros with a left forearm injury.
"I can't say it's better, I can't say it's worst," she explained on Thursday. "I mean, I'm feeling everything on my body. It's not really surprising. We'll see how that will look like tomorrow. I really had a tough match today, with fast serves flying to me, so we'll see how it's going to be tomorrow."
She last played Mladenovic at the Mutua Madrid Open, where she won in two tight sets, but the Frenchwoman has been on the upswing since pairing with new coach Sascha Bajin, winning the Roland Garros women's doubles title with Timea Babos and reaching the Nature Valley Open quarterfinals to kick off the grass court season.
The No.6 seed last played on this court in her first round back in 2018, when she lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich in three shocking sets, and made a tough start on serve, throwing in two double faults as Mladenovic broke in the opening game.
"I didn't want the same result as last year, being back on the Court 1. So I'm really glad that I turn it on my side this time. Hopefully that match will stay in the last year, and I'm glad I do have better memories now."
The 2013 Wimbledon mixed doubles champion held onto the lone break for most of the set, holding three set points - engineering the last with a scintillating all-court rally - but Kvitova was undaunted, winning 11 of the next 14 points to swiftly the first set out from under Mladenovic.
"I started pretty slowly. I was so tight and nervous. I don't know why. Playing on the Court 1 probably again was something really special. I played a really bad game, the first game. Then she played great. I mean, she was serving pretty well. But I tried to wait for the chances,
"I was probably just a little bit stronger at that time and took it 7-5. From the time I started to feel much better."
Falling behind an identical break to start the second set, Kvitova moved right in to level the match, and rode that momentum over the finish line, securing victory on her first match point.
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It was a near-perfect effort from the former World No.2, who struck eight aces and 24 winners to 18 unforced errors, converted four of nine break point opportunities.
"I never know what I should expect of myself!" she joked. "I was in the gym, a lot of fitness, and did a lot of running when I wasn't able to hit. Every day I'm still in the draw and hold the racquet is much better. Even when the match gets longer, I'm hoping that it'll help me get more used to the game, and hitting the ball. Luckily, I was right!"
Standing between Kvitova and a spot in the second week is either American Amanda Anisimova or Poland's Magda Linette. Anisimova shocked Kvitova at last year's BNP Paribas Open - in what was a breakthrough tournament for the teenager - but Kvitova avenged the defeat earlier this year at the Australian Open en route to the final.
"I think when the match gets little bit longer, I just play better and better. I felt much better in the rallies afterwards. When I put the return in, I just felt maybe it's on my side when we are playing the rallies."