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|Venue: Flushing Meadows, New York Dates: 28 Aug-10 Sept|
|BBC coverage: Live radio and text commentary on selected matches every day.|
Petra Kvitova hopes expectations will ease after her “amazing” run to the US Open quarter-finals.
It was her 21st match since returning to competitive action in May.
“After this great run here, I hope it will be a little bit easier for me to breathe and play well, and no expectation again,” said Kvitova.
The two-time Wimbledon champion beat 18th seed Caroline Garcia and third seed Garbine Muguruza on her way to the last eight, her best performance at a Grand Slam for two years.
That was despite her revealing earlier in the tournament that her playing hand had still not fully recovered from the attack.
“It’s tough to say right now but overall, I think it’s amazing [to reach the quarter-finals],” she said. “I didn’t really think that I could come so far.
“I’m just glad that I could show it here, that there is a way to play well again. So from my side, in a couple of days, I hope that I will say, good job. But not just now.”
‘Life is still a little bit strange’
“I’m getting there slowly,” Kvitova said on the eve of the tournament when asked if things were “back to normal”.
Despite the familiarity of the surroundings and the overwhelming amount of good wishes from fellow players and supporters, her return to the tennis spotlight has been a huge challenge over many weeks and months.
The attack took place at Kvitova’s apartment in Prostejov on 20 December, and the same evening she had a four-hour operation.
The surgeon, Dr Radek Kebrle, described the injury as “horrific”, adding: “The chances of Petra’s hand healing well enough for her to be able to play tennis again were very low.”
All five fingers on her playing hand suffered lacerations, two of them digital nerve damage.
For a player who had taken six weeks off in 2015 as she struggled for motivation, there were naturally questions about whether she would want to come back, even if she could.
The following weeks and months would test her passion for the sport, and the psychological effect of the attack lingers.
“Life is still a little bit strange, but it’s getting better as well,” she admitted this week. “Hopefully one day will be better.”
A protective splint was required for eight weeks but therapy began immediately, at first simply gripping a glass or a soft ball, then progressing to holding a tennis racquet, but only for a minute at a time.
Physical work could begin on the bike and Kvitova would play table tennis or badminton with her right hand, until she was finally able to hit tennis balls with her left hand after three months.
Even then it was only backhands at first, with serves and forehands too painful.
“I was surprised by how well she responded and how motivated she was to come back,” said her coach, Jiri Vanek. “Her motivation was huge.”
By the time she began to practise on clay in Monaco at the start of May, Dr Kebrle gave the go-ahead for her to return to competition at the French Open later that month.
‘It wasn’t enough, right?’
Kvitova signalled just a month into her comeback that she was still capable of playing at the top level when she won the WTA title in Birmingham, a victory she said on Tuesday had “put a little bit pressure on” in terms of expectations.
It was not until Flushing Meadows that we saw the best of her again, and at a venue where she has often struggled.
The sweeping forehand winners and swinging lefty serves derailed the hopes of number-one-in-waiting Muguruza, and almost got her past the in-form Williams.
“It was pretty close but pretty far, as well,” said Kvitova.
“It wasn’t enough, right? Well, what can I say? I feel very tired right now. Of course, as a loser, it’s more tiring than as a winner.”
The ‘Asian swing’ now beckons and trips to Tokyo, Wuhan, Beijing and Tianjin, an experience the home-loving Czech freely admits she does not “really love”, but her parting words at Flushing Meadows signalled her desire to be out on court.
With her ranking set to move up to around 12th, she is on course to qualify for the WTA Elite Trophy, a secondary end-of-season event that Kvitova would not normally expect to be involved in.
“I just asked my PR manager if I do have a chance for Zhuhai,” she said on Tuesday night.
“I didn’t really think about the Asia swing so far, but I will need to in a couple days, and, yeah, the season, it’s getting to the finish. Yeah, it will be nice.”
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