Thursday, March 7, 2019 - Venus Williams plays Andrea Petkovic in the 1st round of the BNP Paribas Open in Stadium 1 at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Indian Wells, California. (Michael Cummo/BNP Paribas Open)
Prepping for her ninth BNP Paribas Open appearance, Petra Kvitova spoke of the fearlessness with which she played when she first broke onto the WTA Tour back in 2006. She was an outsized Czech, just 16 and still growing into her body, but already in possession of the kind of heavy-ball groundies that would soon lead her to historic heights on the Grand Slam stage.
Kvitova also possessed a certain blind ambition, as players of that age and caliber often do. No reason to overthink it. Believe in your game above all else. Just step up and crush the ball.
“I do remember myself playing in the beginning on the tour, facing players with no fear, no expectations, nothing,” said the two-time Wimbledon titlist, now 29. “I just went out there striking the ball and playing aggressive. Fearless. It’s just different — you’re not thinking too much about any points you’re playing. It doesn’t matter if it’s a set point or a break point. You just go and hit it.”
Two years ago, on this very same site, Venus Williams spoke of a similar, ignorance-is-bliss outlook; those early days in the mid-‘90s, when she “played without boundaries.”
Though the great ones never let go of that innate self-belief, you can’t help but shed some of that free-swinging swagger when you spend as much time on the tour as both Williams and Kvitova have. You learn how to play a higher percentage game. Less risk-reward. More scouting, more tactics, more patience.
Despite their shared success (between them, they boast seven Wimbledon titles), they’ll likely try to recapture some of that teen-years mindset when they face off for the seventh time on Saturday at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Let go of the outcome. Go for your angles. Go for your lines.
Kvitova leads the head-to-head, 4-2, although Williams claimed their last encounter, a 6-3, 3-6, 7-6(2) quarterfinal decision on the hard courts of the US Open in 2017. Kvitova has twice reached the quarterfinals here (2013, 2016), while Williams is a three-time semifinalist spanning three decades (1998, 2001, 2018).