BIRMINGHAM, England - No.7 seed Petra Kvitova enjoyed a smooth passage into the second round of the Aegon Classic with a 6-2, 6-3 win over compatriot Tereza Smitkova.
The World No.167 had only snuck into the main draw as a Lucky Loser, having lost in three sets to another Czech player, Marketa Vondrousova, in the final round of qualifying. However, Smitkova has shown her class on grass in the past, most notably in reaching the fourth round of Wimbledon as a qualifier in 2014. In fact, it was the 22-year-old who garnered the first break point chance of the match - though it was swiftly saved by Kvitova with a clever dropshot.
Smitkova showcased a solid power game in the first set, but her opponent is one of the WTA Tour's elite exponents of that style. The 27-year-old is playing just her second tournament of 2017 - and revealed at Roland Garros that she still has no sensation in two of the fingers of her left hand following injuries incurred in a December home invasion. Nonetheless, her serve and forehand - the bedrocks of her game - were in fine fettle as she landed 73% of her first serves in the opener, and won 77% of those points.
The 2011 and 2014 Wimbledon champion moved through the gears in the second set, displaying a greater variety of angles to go with her power than Smitkova as she calmly sped out to a 3-1 lead. If anything, Kvitova's serve was clicking even more as she racked up six aces to go with a host of unreturnable deliveries, too: as in the first set, she faced just one break point, this time saving it with a forehand down the line.
Smitkova had also lost to her senior compatriot in her only WTA Tour quarterfinal, in Shenzhen in 2015. Though she battled hard in today's closing stages, saving three match points as she served to stay in the match, she found no answer to on return in the next game as Kvitova booked a second-round meeting with local wildcard Naomi Broady.
Afterwards, Kvitova was thrilled to win on her favorite surface again. "I had good timing on the court today and I'm happy the way I played... I love playing on the grass, I love every movement on that," she enthused.
As for her hand, Kvitova admitted that the injuries were such that it will "never" be 100% again, and that she is still "not practicing that much" due to its ongoing recovery. However, she chose to look on the bright side: "I'm happy I didn't have to change any techniques or any differences in my racquet or anything like that. So that's important for me to know that I'm trying to play as I did before."
A positive change for the former World No.2, though, has been a mental one. "I feel that I maybe love tennis even more than before because I know what it means for me," she reflected. "I missed the fight and I missed adrenaline during the matches. So I'm happy that I have it back. There was a time when nobody ever knew if I were able to play again, so I'm more appreciated about this time. And probably even if I lose, I will always smile and to be happy that I'm back. So that's kind of different."