“Nobody knew if this day would come,” a smiling Petra Kvitova said during her first tournament press conference in six months.
The two-time Wimbledon champion had been out of the game after incurring severe injuries to her left hand during a home invasion, but is set to make her return at the French Open, where the former semifinalist will play her first match against World No.86 Julia Boserup.
“I'm really happy that I’m here, that dreams come true,” the 2012 semifinalist said. “I'm here in the draw and I'm playing tennis again. It wasn't easy, but I'm happy that I worked through this.
“I know that my hand is not perfectly ready. It's still not 100%, so we will see how everything goes, but I'm happy that I am able to play again.”
Kvitova first picked up a racquet at the end of March, following weeks of more tentative physical therapy that required the smallest of movements to improve her range of motion.
“We have just 15 minutes, so I'm not sure we can make it!” she joked when asked to detail her recovery.
“Every millimeter made me happy. I was traveling to Grenoble to see the hand specialist every month; he’d give me some exercises, which I was doing at home with my hands in Czech Republic.
“I had hit few forehands with soft balls from the net, and it felt very, very weird. It was, like, ‘No, it's not my racquet and it's not my hand.’ But every day was improving, and now I feel okay when I have the racquet. There’s some small differences which I wish will improve, as well.”
With no major changes to her famous technique, the Czech star aims to restore the power and strength to her once-dominating hand, which her doctor says could take another six months.
“Tennis is a joy now. From the beginning when I hit a nice forehand, I was so happy inside, and I was, like, ‘Wow, it's really great that I still have it.’ I'm kind of practicing normally, but I'm not practicing that much I worry about inflammation in the fingers.”
Kvitova credits a large support system of family and friends with getting her through the toughest times, and while the traumatic experience hasn’t left her totally changed, she admits to being more sensitive to her surroundings.
“I'm lucky I'm positive-thinking person. So I took the positive route, and I was really trying hard to get my hand back in the proper movement. There were times when the mind was thinking that I would never ever play, but it was just a few times. Most of the time I tried to think about something else, not only about the hand.”
She used her studies as a welcome distraction, taking classes in social media and communications at home in the Czech Republic.
“Maybe I will be one of you some day!” she joked with members of the press.
“It made my mind a little bit busier when I couldn't play tennis. I think that helped me.
“There were some tough times, but the people around me helped me a lot, as well. I saw Dr. Kebrle every week, and he gave me a lot of positive things, because he saw the improvements, and he always say it's working okay, so we need to be patient and everything.”
The decision to play the French Open, then, seems like a slight break with that "slow and steady" strategy, but Kvitova felt she could no longer suppress her competitive instincts as the pain dissipated in practice.
“It was a last-minute decision, but I have to start somewhere! I know it's a Grand Slam, but it's good practice. For me right now, it's not like a Grand Slam. It's something more. When I will step on the court will be something really different compared to anything.
“To be sitting at home, knowing that I could play but I'm not here and instead, just will be practicing for two weeks, that would not have not been the best option for me. I love to play matches instead of practicing.
“So, I'm here and I will try to do my best in the match, as well, but from a little bit different angle.”
Known for her sharp swings and unbelievable angles, Kvitova brought new meaning to the latter in Friday’s press conference; it became a metaphor for the new perspective and renewed appreciation for a game she nearly lost for good.
“It felt really weird that I couldn't compete. I didn't miss the nerves before the match and end of the match, when you are sitting in the locker room waiting for a match and you are really tight. But I did miss the adrenaline on the court, I did miss the fight.
“Now I can just enjoy everything, even when it's beautiful weather outside. Sometimes I just stand outside and see the sun and say, ‘Oh, it's beautiful.'
"I see things differently than before."