MELBOURNE, Australia - For the third consecutive Grand Slam, the Czechs have placed four players - Petra Kvitova, Karolina Pliskova, Barbora Zahlavova Strycova and Lucie Hradecka - into the third round.
With a healthy dose of familiar faces, anchored by two-time Wimbledon champion Kvitova, and a fresh infusion of hard-charging talent, the Czechs have become a dominant player on the international stage in recent years, winning three of the last four Fed Cups and consistently making hay at the Slams.
If, as the saying goes, leadership is the key to 99 percent of all successful efforts, then the Czechs are in very good hands with the immensely talented Kvitova at the top of their power pyramid.
Not only is the 24-year-old southpaw a phenom that has come within a whisker of the World No.1 ranking, she is also a dedicated professional that is extremely loyal to the Czech flag and a diligent worker in all facets of her game.
In 2012, Kvitova was fresh off her first Wimbledon title at the Australian Open when she came up against Maria Sharapova in the semifinals, needing just two more wins for her second major title in less than a year and the coveted No.1 ranking. Kvitova would fall in heartbreaking fashion on that day, and regress a bit in the months to come, but to her credit, she has never ceased in her quest to return to the pinnacle of the sport.
With Li Na's former physiotherapist and fitness trainer, Alex Stober, helping her achieve newfound fitness in 2015, the menacing yet soft-spoken Kvitova appears to be on the cusp of another push up the rankings. Already pundits are clamoring, predicting that World No.4 Kvitova will finish the year at No.1.
Brad Gilbert told ESPN's television audience that Kvitova "looks 10 times fitter" this season, and says he feels that she'll definitely be in the hunt for No.1 by year's end. Ed McGrogan, senior editor at Tennis.com, boldly tweeted, "She will finish the year No.1," during her 6-2, 6-4 victory over Germany's Mona Barthel on Day 4.
Whether or not Kvitova finishes No.1 is not as important as the example she's setting for her fellow Czechs. Napoleon Bonaparte once said that a leader is a dealer in hope, and for rising Czech stars like Pliskova, hope springs eternal. All one needs to do is look at the dogged persistence with which Kvitova has transformed herself from a lanky, erratic talent into a finely tuned wrecking ball, and believe in the possibilities.
But let's not give Kvitova all the credit. The Czechs are on the verge of having four players in the Top 20 (Zahlavova Strycova is projected to reach No. 21 by making the third round, and would go higher by reaching the second week), and both Pliskova and Zahlavova Strycova appear poised to have breakouts in the days to come in Melbourne.
Pliskova, a 22-year-old with one of the livest arms in tennis, won two singles and three doubles titles in 2014. Already inside the Top 20, she could be her nation's next Top 10 player. Zahlavova Strycova is a cagey veteran who keeps getting better with age. The 28-year-old reached her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in her 33rd major appearance at Wimbledon last year, and has reached the third round in her last three majors.
Rounding out the Czech contingent is Hradecka, a hard-hitting former World No.41 who upset Ana Ivanovic in the first round after qualifying.
As is typically the case, it's not just Kvitova who is carrying the flag at this year's Australian Open. An extremely talented gang of Czech mates each shoulder a healthy share of the load.
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