Brilliant stuff from Petra Kvitova
LONDON -- The theme at these 128th Championships at the All England Club has been the ascendance of youth -- the changing of the guard, as it were.
But now that we're down to one last singles match, Sunday's men's final, it's clear that there's something to be said for experience, especially on a surface as subtle as Centre Court. Twenty-three-year-olds Grigor Dimitrov and Milos Raonic both lost in the men's semifinals -- and now 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard, the named-for-a-royal-princess darling of this tournament, is out.
Kvitova, a 24-year-old from the Czech Republic, collected her second Wimbledon title in four years, throttling Bouchard 6-3, 6-0.
It was the most one-sided women's final in 22 years; Steffi Graf unloaded on 17-year-old Monica Seles 6-2, 6-1 in the 1992 final. Kvitova won 61 of 98 points in a match that required only 55 minutes.
The match was played on a murky, moist day but the roof was left open. The end came so suddenly that the All England Club, perhaps thinking of their patrons along with their many television contracts, chose to pause for 15 minutes or so to close the roof for the trophy ceremony. Both players left the court, which was unprecedented.
In her on-court interview, Kvitova had difficulty getting through her answers. Tears welled in her eyes and her thin voiced cracked.
"I can't say that it's more special [than the first title]," she said, "but after three years to stand here with the trophy, it's definitely amazing.
"It's an amazing time for me."
Kvitova has always been an all-or-nothing, hit-or-miss player. The strapping lefty is capable of some brilliant stuff, but there is always the worry that she'll be visited by doubts and see her game go off. For some reason, her composure on the lawn at Wimbledon has been exemplary.
She's been to five straight quarterfinals here -- three more than at any other Grand Slam -- and the 2011 title cast her in a different light. Kvitova had only played the Canadian once, beating her in a straight-sets second-round match last year in Toronto.
Most pundits didn't see that happening again. Bouchard ripped through the draw here, beating No. 9 seed Angelique Kerber in the quarter and No. 3 Simona Halep in the semifinals -- without dropping a set. Kvitova, on the other hand, had an undistinguished path to the final, beating only two seeded players, neither of them among the top 20.
As the match opened, however, it was clear Kvitova was hitting rather than missing. She broke Bouchard's second service game -- fractured it, really -- with a nasty forehand cross-court winner. Another unconscious forehand winner gave Kvitova Bouchard's fourth service game.
John McEnroe, sitting in the BBC commentary booth, was amazed.
"This is some of the best tennis you'll ever see on this court," said the three-time Wimbledon champion. "She's hitting it so clean."
Kvitova, serving for the first set at 5-2, dropped her serve, but that was the only moment of unsteadiness. She won the first three points of Bouchard's subsequent service game and, on the third set point, crushed a service return.
The second set play-by-play, if you have a taste for the macabre, can be found somewhere online. Suffice to say that Kvitova never came out of the unnatural zone she was playing in, and Bouchard looked like one of the juniors playing on Court No. 3.
The end came so swiftly, it was almost difficult to believe.
"I didn't feel like I was able to play my game," Bouchard said later. "She really took the chances away from me and was really putting a lot of pressure on me. I didn't have that many opportunities.
"But sometimes your opponent just plays better than you, and that's what happened today."
This wasn't the second round in Charleston, or even the quarters in Rome. This was a Wimbledon final. Kvitova laced a backhand cross-court winner on match point and fell to her back. She bounced up smiling and ran to net.
"It's hard," said McEnroe, in a rare understatement, "to put into words how good she was."
Last year, Bouchard didn't make much of an impact in the Grand Slams. Then 19, her ranking wasn't high enough to even play the Australian Open, and she won a total of only four matches at the remaining three.
This year, Bouchard entered the women's final against Kvitova with a 16-2 record in the majors -- the best of any woman. Her trademark is taking the ball early, standing stubbornly on or inside the baseline and trusting her athleticism to get the ball in play.
"It was a big moment walking out onto Centre Court for a final," Bouchard said. "I have that experience now. I know what it feels like. I hope I can walk out to many more finals. That's the goal.
"I am very motivated to win a Grand Slam. It's been a lifelong dream of mine. I feel like I've taken steps in the right direction to achieve that."
How far, how fast has Bouchard -- now 20 -- come? How about faster than Martina Hingis?
Hingis won the junior girls' tournament here in 1994, then three years later reached the women's final (and won) at the All England Club. Bouchard got to the final in two years. Further, Bouchard reached the final in only her sixth major appearance, a remarkable achievement underlined by the fact only five women ever did better -- and their names were Shriver, Venus, Evert, Zvereva and Seles. Going forward, it will be interesting to see if Bouchard can make a similar impression on the game.
"She played fantastic these two weeks," Bouchard said of Kvitova. "It was tough for me today. But I'm proud of how I played this tournament. I feel like it's a step in the right direction. I don't know if I deserve all your love today, but I appreciate it."
And Kvitova? She's always been a nervy player. Maybe this confirmation of her greatness on the grass at Wimbledon will send her off on a major tear. Then again, maybe it won't.
"Mentally, I already played in the final, but you never know how it's going to go," she said, perhaps sounding a bit surprised. "I'm just happy to be here and hold the trophy."