MELBOURNE, Australia — Her spirit was there and her mind willing, but her body could not quite get her over the line.
Petra Kvitova‘s comeback to the Australian Open ended in the first round Tuesday with a 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 loss against Andrea Petkovic. Kvitova, who missed last year’s event, served for the match twice but to no avail. The effects of a recent fever and lingering cough were perhaps factors down the stretch.
But if anyone is likely to be able to put a loss in perspective, it is Kvitova.
Twelve months ago, she was in Gran Canaria, trying to quiet her mind after she was attacked by a knife-wielding intruder in her own home weeks earlier — an attack that left her with serious injuries to her dominant left hand. The Czech was trying to relax in the winter sunshine when she was alerted to a video on Twitter.
The message showed many of her fellow professionals telling the two-time Wimbledon champion how much they missed her, how they wished her a speedy recovery and that they looked forward to seeing her back on tour soon.
Already determined to come back, despite the severity of her hand injury, which required four hours of surgery, the messages of support gave her an added impetus at a time when she was attempting — and failing — to not watch the Australian Open on TV.
“It was very, very nice,” a smiling Kvitova told ESPN.com at Melbourne Park this week. “I did watch a lot of [the matches]. I’m not sure it was a good idea. I tried to watch more of the men’s, but of course sometimes I saw some of the women’s as well. Mentally it was very tough.”
But mental toughness is something Kvitova has showed an astonishing level of, given what she went through. When she returned to the tour, at the French Open last May, she was seemed calm — at least on the outside.
“[That] was the worst thing about Paris,” she said. “I knew that some bad questions will come. To be honest, I was pretty nervous before it. [The attack] was still pretty [recent], and the emotions were not great. I was still believing, but I couldn’t really use my left hand, which was weird. I needed help from other people.
“Normally I am very independent, so suddenly I couldn’t drive the car or put my jacket on or jeans on and everything. So I was feeling a totally different person. As time went by, and the hand was feeling better, the emotions were better and better, too.”
Amazingly, Kvitova won her second tournament, on the grass of Birmingham, but it wasn’t until she reached the quarterfinals of the US Open last September, beating Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza along the way, that she really believed she was back to somewhere close to her old self on the court.
“I have to say, I played without fear, being back on the grass, it was more like adrenaline than anything else,” Kvitova said. “The US Open, when I came to New York, from the first practice I felt much better.
Considering everything she has been through, there are bound to be difficult moments, memories that won’t go away. But Kvitova insists she is trying to look forward.
“Of course, the flashbacks are still there and probably will never be gone, but on the other hand, I feel more normal than before,” Kvitova said. “So this is a good sign for sure. I think sometimes I think I am not really thinking about small things as much as I did before.”
At 27, she has plenty of time to add to her Grand Slam collection. A fever she thinks she caught on the plane to Melbourne interrupted her preparations, but she has never been the kind of player who needs to spend hours on court to be close to her best.
Former world No. 1 Martina Navratilova said last week that she believes Kvitova can win another major this year, and Wimbledon, where she’s won twice, is the most likely spot.
Despite the loss Tuesday, Kvitova is feeling good and her hand, which was so badly mauled, looks great.
“My doctor says it’s good,” she said. “It will never be perfect, probably. But the scars are getting softer. I think the strength is there. I think the movement is not the best, but he said it will improve, so I hope so.”