Petra Kvitova is a versatile and gifted shotmaker, enormously ambitious, and more mature as a competitor than she has ever been before. At 25, she is the second ranked woman tennis player in the world, a left-handed virtuoso performer, and someone who has the highest regard for all four major championships. She won Wimbledon in 2011 supremely, cutting down 2004 champion Maria Sharapova in the final with an unrelenting display of backcourt aggression. But when she tried to defend that title, Kvitova fell short. She was beaten in the quarterfinals by Serena Williams, who subsequently captured her fifth title on the lawns of the All England Club in 2012.
That setback, of course, was no disgrace. Williams is an unassailable big occasion player. In 2013, Kvitova suffered a much more surprising loss at the world’s premier tournament, falling in the quarterfinals against Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium. That was an inexplicable loss in many ways. But Kvitova returned a year ago and was magnificent, perhaps even more convincing in sealing the crown than she was the first time around. In the final, Kvitova blasted the Canadian Eugenie Bouchard off the court 6-3, 6-0 with a barrage of scorching service returns, serving of the highest order, and brilliance across the board.
Kvitova arrived on these grounds this year seeded No. 2, the highest she had ever been placed. Many authorities believed she had the best chance of anyone besides Serena Williams to win Wimbledon this year, but it was not to be. The defending champion was ushered out of the tournament by former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic, who remains one of the sport’s most astute match players. Seeded 28th, the 30-year-old Serbian rallied cagily from a set and 1-3 down to oust Kvitova 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.
In essence, an imaginative chess player overcame an opponent with a much wider array of shots. Jankovic was masterful with her ball control, point construction and situational hitting. On the biggest points, she was not found wanting. When it really mattered, her larger margin for error kept her in good stead against the daring yet error prone Kvitova.
For a long while, Kvitova seemed to be on her way to a decisive victory. She saved a break point in the opening game of this Centre Court contest. After Jankovic got back on level ground at 1-1, Kvitova advanced to 2-1, holding at 15 with an ace down the T. She broke Jankovic at 30 for 3-1 with a steady stream of forcing shots and then held at 15 for 4-1. Kvitova was utterly in control, setting the agenda in the rallies, keeping Jankovic off balance.
The Serbian held on for 2-4 but she had no real notion of how to return the lefty’s formidable serve. Kvitova was finding the corners, going wide to the Jankovic backhand with heavy slice, sending some out wide to the Jankovic forehand in the deuce court. She connected with three out of four first serves in the following game, holding at love for 5-2. Jankovic managed to win one more game on her serve to close the gap to 5-3, but Kvitova missed only one first serve in closing out the set in the ninth game, holding at 30 with sharp efficiency and unerring accuracy. Set to Kvitova, 6-3.
After Jankovic held for a 1-0 second set lead, Kvitova went assiduously back to work, building new momentum. She held at love for 1-1 with three straight aces, broke at love in the third game and then held at love again. Not only had she won three consecutive games, but Kvitova had not conceded even a point in that sterling stretch. It seemed entirely possible that she would glide almost effortlessly to victory from there.
Jankovic, however, had other notions. In the fifth game, she made a crucial move that kept her from drifting even closer to elimination. Serving at 1-3, down break point, Jankovic drove a forehand winner into the clear. Kvitova made an unforced error off the backhand on the next point, and then Jankovic aced her adversary out wide. Kvitova remained up a break at 3-2 in the second set, but she had been prevented from breaking the battle wide open by a wily adversary.
Kvitova held at 15 for 4-2 with a winning forehand before Jankovic answered with a love hold of her own. In the following game, Jankovic forced a couple of mistakes from Kvitova and released two winners as well. She broke at 30 for 4-4 and then held at 15 for 5-4, boosted in that game by a winner off each flank. Kvitova held her composure and her serve in a love game for 5-5, closing it out with an ace down the T. But Jankovic had found her range off the ground as Kvitova fell into some rough patches from the baseline. Jankovic did not miss a first serve as she held at love for 6-5.
Now Kvitova was fighting furiously just to reach a tie-break. She saved two set points in the twelfth game but the Serbian was staying right on tune. She sealed the break on her third opportunity when Kvitova was guilty of an unforced error off the forehand. Set to Jankovic, 7-5. It was one set all. The Serbian was looking increasingly optimistic. As for Kvitova, she had much cause for consternation.
Jankovic served first in the final set, and immediately took command, holding at love. Kvitova retaliated by holding at 15 for 1-1. More than at any other stage of the match, both women were performing simultaneously at a high level, protecting their serves commendably, taking control of points whenever possible, playing the percentages with regularity. Jankovic held at 30 for 2-1 and then had a break point in the fourth game, but a poised and perspicacious Kvitova saved it with an excellent body serve that drew a forehand return error. Although Kvitova double faulted away one game point, she came through on her second opportunity to reach 2-2.
Jankovic was undeterred. She held at 30 for 3-2 with a well struck forehand down the line behind Kvitova; the left-hander could not recover. Yet Kvitova held at love for 3-3 despite missing three of four first serves. Jankovic held at love for 4-3 with one of her signature backhand down the line winners, taking that ball early and making a deep and impressive knee bend. Kvitova met that challenge handsomely, holding at 15 for 4-4.
The ninth game was pivotal. Kvitova struck the ball sweetly to reach 15-30. Jankovic drove a two-hander down the line, and Kvitova was there to send a backhand crosscourt. But she went with her instincts and challenged the call on her baseline, believing that Jankovic’s backhand was long. Kvitova stopped play to make her challenge, but the ball was on the line. Kvitova should have been at 15-40 but instead was locked at 30-30. Jankovic was not going to miss this moment. She took the next two points with her backcourt acumen to lead 5-4.
Kvitova was serving to stay in the match. She established a 30-0 lead before being forced into a forehand error. Kvitova was unsettled by that mistake. Jankovic travelled to 30-30 when Kvitova missed flagrantly with an inside out forehand, sending that shot wide. The next point featured Jankovic at her most appealing and crafty. She covered the court with alacrity, defending persistently. On the run, she sliced a backhand crosscourt, keeping that shot low and reasonably deep. Kvitova erred off the forehand. It was match point for Jankovic. The Serbian drove a backhand down the line to her opponent’s backhand, coaxing a mistake from Kvitova.
Jankovic deservedly gained a 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory to reach the round of 16. For Kvitova, this was surely a disconcerting loss from a set and a break up. She had played irresistibly well to put herself in a winning position, but then Jankovic called on all of her experience and court sense to alter the course of events and make a spirited recovery. This is her fifth visit to the round of 16, but the last time she got this far was in 2010. Across the past four years at the All England Club (from 2011-2014), Jankovic only won one match. But the fact remains that these days she is still—even well past her prime—a dangerous player.
Kvitova battled hard after Jankovic climbed back into the match. Jankovic concluded 2008 as the top ranked female player in the world. Despite her current status as the No. 28 seed and the No. 30 ranked woman competitor in the world, Jankovic knows how to win, what to do in the narrow corners of close matches, and the way to get the most out of her game. She must be applauded for her temerity. As for Kvitova, she has a good chance to secure a third Centre Court crown next year or the season after that. She was beaten by a better player today. Against one of the game’s most daunting returners, Jankovic won 39 of 53 first serve points (74%). She made only eleven unforced errors over the three sets, ten less than Kvitova.
The defending champion is out, but in the final analysis the outcome of this third round appointment was decided more by Jankovic’s remarkably good play than any of Kvitova’s modest deficiencies.