Exclusive Interview by Claire Bloomfield // 16 Dec 2017
The grisly details of the terrifying knife attack that turned Petra Kvitova’s life upside down almost exactly a year ago are barely comprehensible. Watching her on the practice courts at the Sparta Praha Tennis Club, it is almost impossible to detect the effects from injuries so severe some experts believed the two-times Wimbledon champion would never resume her career; she still suffers from nerve damage to her playing hand and cannot entirely clench her fist or feel two of her fingers.
Kvitova puts down her racket to take a break from back-to-back practice sessions on the indoor courts and makes her way upstairs to a small meeting room with her coach, Jiri Vanek, a kit bag slung over her athletic 6ft frame.
After a brief and cheerful exchange in Czech with Vanek, whom she hired only a few weeks before the attack, she pulls up a chair by the window overlooking the tired and rusty clay courts below. There is an air of confidence about her as she matter-of-factly discusses the next steps in her recovery before revealing the full physical and mental trauma of an attack that left her terrified to hold a racket again after career-saving surgery and a gruelling rehabilitation.
“It will probably take more than a year to get full movement back, I’m not sure,” Kvitova says. “For tennis and for life, it’s good. I’ve done everything that I could but there is still some space to improve it. I hope that with more time I will be even stronger. I am happy that [throughout the recovery] I was always looking forward to the better tomorrows.”
Kvitova made an emotional return to action in the French Open in May, where she progressed to the second round, confounding the expectations of her surgeon – who had sleepless nights over her recovery – and those who had written off her career.
“I did hear the rumours that I would never ever play again but I thought: ‘I will show them,’ she recalls, offering a reminder of the steely determination instilled in her by her father, Jiri.
“I was like: ‘Why are they saying this?’ It was very painful for me, it felt like they didn’t believe me. Of course, at that time, I probably didn’t know how bad it was because nobody told me – and I am happy for that now.
“My doctor [Radek Kebrle] told me that many other experts thought that I would never ever play. He didn’t want to tell me – and that was a good decision for my mental state of mind.
“The week after surgery I asked my doctor: ‘Do you think I could play in Wimbledon this year?’ He didn’t answer for a while and then he said: ‘We are going to work on it and blah, blah, blah.’ I understood then that it wasn’t going to be easy.”