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Matt Cronin: Petra Kvitova at a crossroads

10/23/2012 4:00:00 PM

By Matt Cronin

ISTANBUL - The WTAChampionships in Istanbul is supposed to be the place where Petra Kvitova picks herself off the mat, stand ups tall and displays the same searing form that saw her win the title last year.

But that was not the case on opening night as the defending champion played a highly nervous, error-strewn contest in her 6-3, 6-2 loss to Agnieszka Radwanska, the first time that the Pole had gotten over on the Czech.

The usually cheery Kvitova came into her press conference red-eyed after what looked like a good long cry. Her eyes welled- up while discussing what occurred and she admitted that she was both angry and sad. She didn't destroy any rackets in the locker room as that’s not her style, but neither is being publicly glum and confused.

“It was a little bit different, but the nerves was there for sure,” said Kvitova, who committed a whopping 41unforced errors to just five from Radwanska. “I was nervous all the match. I felt my fingers weren't still moving and I didn't move on my legs. I'm disappointing in myself.  I had a lot of errors and it wasn't good tennis from my side…. Here it's top eight players in the world. I think that it's not that big pressure because you don't have someone who is around 100 in the first round for example. But, still, if you are not playing like some matches before and now you have player who's No.4 in the world, it's not easy to be relaxed.”

It has been a trying year for the sixth-ranked Czech, who after winning her maiden Grand Slam title at 2011 Wimbledon, capped it off by overpowering a standout field at the 2011 WTA Championships. She was supposed to come into 2012 and seize the No.1  ranking and maybe another Slam or two.

But she has battled injuries, illness and herself, and at various times this year when her fans thought she was ready to make a strong charge she’s come up with a bewildering loss.

“I knew this season would be very tough for me after the breakthrough last season,” Kvitova said. “It’s always going to be a little different and difficult.”

However, Kvitova does believe that she's more solid than last year, which in some ways the streaky Czech has been, but she didn’t win a Slam in 2012, which matters a great deal.

She came into the year ranked No. 2, played fairly well at the Australian Open where she lost a tough three-set semifinal to Maria Sharapova. She was in range of passing Victoria Azarenka for the top spot for the next three months, but went out early at Indian Wells and Miami, and was unable to reach a final at Stuttgart, Rome or Madrid. She played fairly well at Roland Garros, reaching the semis before falling to eventual champion Sharapova again.

She did not play badly in attempting to defend her Wimbledon title and actually played eventual champion Serena Williams tough in two-set loss.

She performed poorly at the Olympics, but then righted her ship, winning her first North American hard court title at Montreal, reached the quarters of Cincinnati and winning the title in New Haven. By virtue of that fine three week run, she won the US Open Series but in New York, Marion Bartoli zoned on her and took her out 6-0 in the third set in the third round.

Established champions rarely are bageled in the third set of majors and that loss alone showed that Kvitova still has a ways to go before she became  a consistent, stable player. She went 1-2during the Asian swing  and then on Tuesday against Radwanska she was so shell shocked that she couldn’t move forward, even though that was the plan.

“I was telling myself thatI have to try to go and fighting again, and it was only took like two balls and I was down again” she said. I couldn't move very well, and that's why maybe I was very slow.  I was still missing one step to the shot.  I played really not very good tactic, because even I had like really good chances to go for the net I didn't.  I mean, it was very important to have this [kind of ] game against Agnieszka.”

It’s also going to be very important for her to find much higher level against Sara Errani in her next match in the White Group and then against Sharapova, whom she has lost to three times this year, although all their matches were fairly close.

She is by no means a complete player, but the reason why she had won 25 straight matches on indoor hard courts prior to her loss to the Pole was because she has such an effective left-handed serve and forehand, can jump on returns and is competent at the the net. When it come to playing straight up power tennis where smooth and quick horizontal movement isn’t paramount to success, she’s right there with Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.

But she can sometimes get in the way of her own success and if she’s to do any damage the rest of this week and next year, she has to clear her head, take it easy on herself and take control of the moment, rather then letting the moments take control of her.

She’s still has a chance to defend her title and show the world how good she can be.  Hopefully for fans of the congenial Czech, the next time she cries it will be tears of joy.

“I try my best again,” she said. “I know that this match wasn't my best, and think the only one way is I can play better.   It's new experience for me, and from every experience I can be smarter.”
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Matt Cronin is a senior writer for Inside Tennis magazine, and the co-owner of the award winning TennisReporters.net. He writes the Ticker for Tennis.com, contributes regularly to Reuters, and is a radio analyst for all the Grand Slams. He just published the book, “Epic: John McEnroe, Bjorn Borg and the Greatest Tennis Season Ever.”