She had undergone surgery to her left, dominant playing hand in December, and there would be a large hole in the tennis schedule up until an earlier-than-expected return at Roland Garros.
Perhaps not surprisingly, after winning that first match back on the tour, she wept as she talked of her hopes and fears, the hard work and painful recovery, and then of the joy of returning in Paris.
But even that achievement was soon trumped by her performance on her beloved grass. At her very next tournament, she won the Premier title in Birmingham. And come the US Open, she made a memorable run to the quarter-finals, only the second time in New York that she had done so, and rounded out her comeback season with a semi finish in Beijing.
There had, naturally, been dips in form and results along the way, but she and her millions of fans certainly had much to smile about—and all the more so after what could have been that career-ending attack less than a year before.
This year began slowly for the popular Czech, not helped by a virus in the opening weeks of the Australian Open swing, but she bounced back from her first-round loss in Melbourne to record her first triumph of 2018, and in her first St Petersburg appearance. Not only that, ranked at 29, she beat four higher-ranked women to carry off the Premier title, and thereby boosted her ranking to 21.
And with no ranking points to defend until her modest ones at the French Open, Kvitova’s 21st title could be just the start of a real push up the ranks in the coming months, even if she does now move to the hot, outdoor courts from her favoured indoor conditions. She has, incidentally, won more matches on indoor hard courts than any other active WTA player.
However the competition now rises to another level, with the entire top 10 aside from Venus Williams, heading to the lucrative Middle East.
The first of a Premier double-header, the Qatar Total Open in Doha, boasts a 64-woman draw with 900 points and almost $0.5 million to the champion, and it has drawn a stunning field that sees only six of the top 40 missing. However, it is also noteworthy in having among its wild cards not just Maria Sharapova but Victoria Azarenka, who is hoping to play in just her third event since having her son over a year ago.
After a number of thwarted attempts to play tournaments since her last appearance at Wimbledon, due to a custody dispute with her son’s father, Azarenka will be able to use a protected ranking of No6 rather than her current ranking of 207, but she will be unseeded.
Sharapova, whose ranking since her return from a doping ban last spring has risen from 262 to No41, will also be unseeded, but both women, both two-time former Doha champions, can only gain points through the coming months.
Kvitova is in the same position, and like Sharapova, she will hope to make hay by heading straight from Doha to Dubai before heading with the tour to the even more challenging double-header of Indian Wells and Miami.
The second of the Middle East Premiers is the prestigious Dubai Duty Free, which has a 32-woman draw but similar rewards to those on offer in Doha. And while the top two women, Caroline Wozniacki and Simona Halep*, are not on the Dubai start list, it remains a glittering line-up—and another formidable challenge for 2013 champion Kvitova.
The Dubai field includes four former world No1s in Muguruza, Sharapova, Karolina Pliskova—the defending champion in Doha—and one of the form players of 2018 so far, Angelique Kerber. And back to defend her Dubai trophy will be Brisbane champion Elina Svitolina, who has herself been in contention for the No1 ranking through much of the last six months or more.
But in a packed month, Kvitova has another stop on her road to points and rankings—one that offers neither—but does offer prestige and national pride: The Fed Cup. And Kvitova knows a lot about the joys of winning that particular trophy with her Czech team-mates.
• Both Pliskova and Kvitova are scheduled to appear for the Czech Republic against Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszky and Belinda Bencic
• Playing in the France/Belgium tie are Kristina Mladenovic and Elise Mertens
• Serena Williams makes her first competitive appearance since the birth of her daughter last September, joined by sister Venus, against the Netherlands
• Ashleigh Barty and Daria Gavrilova lead Australia against the Ukraine
• Halep and Sorana Cirstea headline for Romania against Canada
• Ostapenko for Latvia and Johanna Konta for GB are among the Group 1 nominations
Qatar Open, Doha: 12-18 February
Premier 5 level, 64-woman draw
Defending champion: Karolina Pliskova
Headline players include: Wozniacki, Halep, Svitolina, Muguruza, Pliskova, Ostapenko, Caroline Garcia, Kerber, Julia Goerges, Konta, Mladenovic, Azarenka, Sharapova
Dubai Duty Free Championships: 19-24 February
Premier level, 32-woman draw
Defending champion: Svitolina
Headline players include: Svitolina, Muguruza, Pliskova, Garcia, Kerber, Goerges, Mladenovic, Madison Keys, Sharapova
*Simona Halep has since taken a wild card into the Dubai Duty Free draw.
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