Martina Navratilova looks at Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and she sees a little bit of herself. That’s not bad when the observer has won the grass-court Grand Slam tournament in London a record nine times.
Navratilova, the most successful player since tennis turned professional in 1968 with 59 Grand Slam titles, has counseled Kvitova since she first saw her play at the French Open a few years ago. Although 34 years apart in age, both are left-handed, play attacking tennis, are Czech-born and won their first Wimbledon title at the age of 21.
“I saw her here and I thought, ‘God, if this girl gets it together, there’s going to be trouble,”’ Navratilova, 55, said in an interview in Paris this month.
Watched by her parents from the royal box, Kvitova started the defense of her title on Centre Court today with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Akgul Amanmuradova of Uzbekistan.
Navratilova and Kvitova have kept in touch since that first meeting in Paris. Navratilova, an 18-time Grand Slam singles champion who was born in Prague and became a U.S. citizen in 1981, watched from the royal box last year when Kvitova beat former champion Maria Sharapova of Russia in straight sets for her first Wimbledon title.
In February, Navratilova took Kvitova on a tour of the All England Club, including a visit to the museum and a look at Centre Court in winter.
“We had fun, talked, walking round,” Navratilova said in the interview at the French Open. “It’s always great to be on Centre Court when there’s nobody there.”
Navratilova also showed Kvitova the roll of honor in the club house that lists her record nine Wimbledon singles titles, won between 1978 and 1990. Kvitova was only a few months old when the last of those championships was won, and her father, Jiri, made her watch recordings of Navratilova’s matches as she was growing up.
Kvitova, who stands 6-foot-1 (1.85 meters), has a game built on a strong serve and flat ground strokes. Navratilova said Kvitova has the tools to win as many titles as she did on the fast grass surface of the All England Club.
“She got started the same time I did, with the first one, and you never know,” Navratilova said. “These days it’s hard to stay healthy long enough because the game is so much more physical, but the way she plays, if anybody could do it, it could be her because she plays such a powerful game, points are short, she doesn’t really have to exert herself that much.”
Kvitova said she wasn’t so sure.
“I have a really long way to go,” she said in an interview at the Rome Masters last month.
The 22-year-old followed her Wimbledon success by winning the season-ending WTA Championships in Istanbul last year. She said Navratilova’s advice before the Wimbledon final helped calm her nerves.
“She told me not to think that it’s the Wimbledon final, but that it’s a normal match, and that I can do it,” Kvitova said. “When I came on court, it was a normal match and I was really lucky that I felt it like a first round.”
The Czech newspaper Mlada Fronta Dnes carried the headline, “Wimbledon Witnessed the Birth of a Star,” while another publication, Pravo, proclaimed, “Modest Champion Petra Kvitova Enchanted Wimbledon.”
Kvitova, the No. 4 seed at Wimbledon this year, no longer drives a Skoda, but a BMW 320. Although she said she enjoys driving a faster car, getting recognized took some getting used to.
“It was something new for me, a new experience,” Kvitova said. “I don’t want to say it was hard but it was not very easy to get used to being famous in the Czech Republic. Everybody stared at me in the supermarket and on the street.”
Navratilova, who defected to the U.S. from communist Czechoslovakia in 1975, credits the Czech system with producing champions such as herself, eight-time major winner Ivan Lendl, 2010 Wimbledon runner-up Tomas Berdych and Kvitova.
“The club system there produces really good players, without trying to,” Navratilova said. “You go to the club and hang out. You play other sports and kids are running around kicking a soccer ball. They become better athletes, much better all-round athletes, and they’re active and they’re healthy and they’re doing it for fun. I was there all day long. Just playing sets, doubles, singles, whatever I could do.”
Kvitova made the semifinals at the Australian Open and French Open this year, losing both times to Sharapova. Her preparation for Wimbledon was cut short when she lost in the opening round of Eastbourne last week to Ekatarina Makarova, a Russian ranked 48th on the women’s tour.
Although Kvitova has no major flaws in her game, there is still scope for improvement.
“She’s a big woman, but use that to your advantage and make it as little a disadvantage as possible,” Navratilova said. “I think she just needs to get a little lighter on her feet. Petra doesn’t need to re-tool but she can definitely improve. She’s 22 years old. I was clueless at that age, so she’s way ahead of me on that one.”