Commentary

Kvitova reminiscent of young Sharapova

Updated: July 2, 2011, 3:02 PM ET
By Greg Garber | ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Seven years ago, a striking 17-year-old Siberian beauty won her first Grand Slam singles title here at the All England Club.

Seven years is an eternity at the highest level of professional tennis, virtually a generation in a sport where an athlete's shelf life is fleeting.

Seven years ago:

• Roger Federer was on the verge of only his third Grand Slam singles title, in the early stages of a dazzling, historic ascent.

• Belgians Kim Clijsters and Justine Henin had yet to play any of their three retirement cards.

• Rafael Nadal was still nearly a year away from appearing in his first match at the French Open.

Petra Kvitova was a 14-year-old growing up in the Czech Republic when that 17-year-old, Maria Sharapova, broke through at Wimbledon. On Saturday, with stunning swiftness, the 6-foot left-hander knocked Sharapova off the court to win her first Grand Slam singles title.

The score was 6-3, 6-4 and on the last stroke -- her first ace of the match -- she did not immediately fall to her knees and kiss the grass of Centre Court. She stood in place and raised both her arms, almost as if she expected it to happen.

It wasn't until later, when they handed her the trophy, that she started sobbing and losing control of her voice. Was it the best match of her life?

"I think so," Kvitova said. "Of course. In the final of Wimbledon, yeah."

BBC analyst and three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe was more succinct.

"Shockingly good," he said. "She made it look easy."

Major experience does not always trump youthful talent, as Sharapova well knows. In 2004, the player she beat in the final was six-time Grand Slam singles champion Serena Williams. This time it was Kvitova, in her first major final, announcing herself by beating a three-time Grand Slam champion.

This one had the fresh feel of 20-year-old Marat Safin's stunning three-set victory over Pete Sampras in the 2000 U.S. Open final.

[+] EnlargePetra Kvitova
AP Photo/Anja NiedringhausIn 2011, Kvitova put it all together to win Wimbledon.

"Well, she performed incredible," Sharapova said. "Sometimes when you don't know what to expect and you don't know how you're going feel, sometimes you play your best because you have that feeling of nothing to lose.

"She went for it, absolutely."

Before it unfolded, no less an authority than nine-time Wimbledon champion Martina Navratilova said the full-size sterling Venus Rosewater Dish would go to the better server. In recent years, women's tennis has been defined by serve -- or, mostly, the lack of it.

Since undergoing surgery for a serious shoulder injury nearly three years ago, Sharapova has struggled to reinvent her serve. Through six matches here, it had been typically dodgy. She had 13 double faults in her semifinal victory over Sabine Lisicki and failed to hit even half of her first serves. Still, there was a palpable sense of destiny in the air when she reached the final where it all began seven years ago.

Or maybe it was just those buzzing, annoying flies that visited Centre Court on Saturday. Life, as Sharapova sometimes likes to say, "is not all rainbows and butterflies."

Sharapova's serve was broken five times -- twice more than Kvitova's. Her first-serve percentage was 58, appreciably worse than Kvitova's 72. There were six double faults, and they were killers.

Even more than the serve, though, was the pace and trajectory that Kvitova was able to generate. Her groundstrokes averaged nine more miles an hour and her shots averaged a net clearance inches lower than Sharapova's.

Flatter and faster usually wins at Wimbledon.

"She was hitting really powerful and hitting, you know, winners from all over the court," Sharapova explained later. "She made a defensive shot into an offensive one. I think she was just more aggressive than I was, hit deeper and harder."

The Russian won the opening toss and, interestingly, deferred to Kvitova's serve. But was it because she wanted to pressure the Czech in the opening game -- or because she didn't want to expose her own frailties?

In any case, Sharapova broke Kvitova straightaway -- and was promptly broken back. Sharapova was serving at 2-3 when her nerves emerged as usual in the form of her second serve. There were back-to-back double faults, and Kvitova had the decisive break. She would win the first frame in a tidy 40 minutes, the first dropped set of the fortnight for Sharapova, an evil omen.

The second set looked a lot like the first. Sharapova had scuffled into a 3-all tie, but at 15-love, she dropped another double. She was subsequently broken and Kvitova managed to keep her nerves in check, so to speak.

"She's a Grand Slam champion," said Sharapova. "She has a tremendous amount of potential to go even further and achieve many great things. If she keeps playing like that and keeps her level up, absolutely. She has a great game for it, yeah. "

Navratilova watched the match from the Royal Box, along with fellow Czech Jana Novotna. They had the look of proud parents. There was a nice moment during the trophy presentation when Kvitova scanned the box and caught Navratilova's eye. She waved. Navratilova smiled and waved back.

Based on what we saw this fortnight from Kvitova, we may see this exchange a few more times.

McEnroe, impressed with her poise and precocity, the heft of her shots, predicted she would win "many" more Grand Slam singles titles.

Kvitova, who reached the semifinals here a year ago, has the perfect game for this lush surface. And, she has symmetry working for her. She's the youngest champion here since … Sharapova.

"Last year I [didn't have] many chances to win," Kvitova said. "Serena played so well. Yeah, I was young and didn't think that I can beat her.

"So [that's what's] different. Because today I felt that I can."

Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Greg Garber

Writer, Reporter
Greg Garber joined ESPN in 1991 and provides reports for NFL Countdown and SportsCenter. He is also a regular contributor to Outside the Lines and a senior writer for ESPN.com.