Reporting from the Western and Southern Open, Reem Abulleil shares her thoughts on the second round thriller between Serena Williams and Petra Kvitova.
In a second round clash that felt more like a major final, the two power-hitters traded blows from either side of the court, punches that would have knocked out many a player on tour. But not Williams, and not Kvitova.
For every ace fired, a thundering return winner was unleashed. A fist pump from one end was met with a roar from the other. The margins were slim, the pace was lightning-fast and the grit was off the charts.
Kvitova edged out Williams 6-3, 2-6, 6-3 but if the match was decided purely on heart, it would have definitely been a draw.
Less than a year ago, Williams was lying in a hospital bed after delivering her first child, Olympia, suffering from life-threatening complications that included blood clots in her lungs. She now wears barely visible compression tights while playing in an effort to avoid further health problems.
At the time, Kvitova was three months into her comeback from a vicious knife attack that saw her get stabbed in her left playing hand while fending off a home intruder. The damage sustained means her hand might never feel the same again.
Both women found their way back to the court, and gave us a glimpse of what they’re made of in their three-set thriller on Tuesday night. What they’ve been through and what they represent transcends tennis, but the sport is as good a platform as any to convey their message of strength and perseverance.
Williams reached the Wimbledon final last month in what was just her fourth tournament back from maternity leave. Kvitova has captured five titles this season and is ranked No. 6 in the world. Those are not your average comeback stories.
Williams, who returned to competition just five months ago, insists her journey is just commencing.
“I’m still at the very beginning. You know, this is a long comeback. I just began. I just started. Definitely at the very, very beginning. I’m getting there, and I’m going to just continue to work hard, and hopefully I’ll start winning more matches,” said the 36-year-old American.
Williams is 12-5 this season, has lost three of her last four matches, and is 0-3 against top-10 opposition since her return to action in March.
But she’s also gone from being unranked, to rising to No. 27 in the world within four months of her comeback and produced some brilliant tennis against Kvitova in Cincinnati. Her baby hasn’t even turned one yet.
“I think we’re both doing good. She’s obviously doing a little bit better, but she’s been back a little bit longer. We’re both still here and still competing,” said Williams of herself and Kvitova.
With her next stop being the US Open, Williams is eyeing further progress and possibly tying Margaret Court’s all-time record of major titles won.
“I think I just definitely want to get a more consistent serve, more than anything, and return more consistently. Basically my whole game needs to improve,” said the 23-time Grand Slam champion.
Those recent losses may feel alien to someone like Williams, but the reality is that she was just one win away from claiming a 24th Slam at Wimbledon last month and history has shown that every time she has faced adversity, she bounced back higher than anyone could imagine. Discard her from the US Open conversation at your own peril!