She has one of the best smiles in the game, one that was omnipresent during a recent warm-up session at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Petra Kvitova, along with coach Jiri Vanek and physio David Vydra, were entangled in an impromptu and highly unorthodox juggling competition on the Stadium 1 court, subbing soccer ball for tennis ball.
— BNP Paribas Open (@BNPPARIBASOPEN) March 5, 2019
Round and round they went, the ball headed, kneed and toed into the Coachella sky, rarely touching the ground.
“We’ve been playing these kinds of soccer games for a pretty long time now, but that was a new one,” said Kvitova, seeded third at the BNP Paribas Open, where she’ll open against American Venus Williams. “It was a fun moment on center court. Sometimes it’s nice to have something different.”
“We shouldn’t think about defending points, playing for the rankings, whatever. We’re trying to not do that,” she added. “This is one of the things that distracts us.”
Kvitova has needed distraction in recent years. She’s been through a lot, after all. In Dec. 2016, she confronted a knife-wielding attacker at her home in the Czech Republic, suffering career-threatening injuries to her left hand. She was expected to be sidelined at least six months, but surprised doctors by returning to the tour early.
Just prior to arriving at the All England Club last summer, those hallowed lawns upon which she has twice raised the Venus Rosewater Dish in triumph, Kvitova got a chance to meet another multi-Slam winner: Monica Seles. They had more in common than just being fellow lefties and major titlists.
Seles, of course, was the victim of an infamous knife attack, too.
The nine-time Grand Slam champion was facing Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg in April 1993, when an obsessed Steffi Graf-fan descended from the stands and thrust a knife into her shoulder blades. It curtailed a career that some believe could have surpassed all others.
“I had never met her before,” said Kvitova. “We talked about what we’ve been through. We’ve both dealt with it pretty nicely. It was so nice to meet someone who kind of had been through something very similar in life.”
“I’m not sure if I’m going to be 100 percent one day,” the 29-year-old added. “I’m not sure if she is. Hopefully, she’s happy and she can enjoy her life as much as she can.”
With Kvitova still recovering from her injuries in 2017 and unable to play the event, BNP Paribas Open officials erected a sign just outside the practice courts. It read GET WELL PETRA and pictured the Czech sporting a black dress and an ear-to-ear grin. Tennis fans from across the globe soon filled it with Sharpie-scrawled messages. Their well wishes seem to have made a difference.
Again regularly competing for titles, Kvitova is back. Smile and all.