By Simon Evans
BIRMINGHAM, England (Reuters) – Twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova says returning to the scene of her “fairytale” first grand slam win will be a particularly emotional occasion this year.
Kvitova only recently returned to competition after a knife attack at her home in the Czech Republic in December left her with an injured left hand.
Rehab has only been part of the work that the 27-year-old has had to undergo. Psychologically, the violent attempted robbery clearly left a scar.
She returned to action at the French Open this month, losing in the second round, and she is playing on the grass at the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston this week as she builds up to her favorite event.
“When I was on the way back I thought, I would really like to play Wimbledon and I feel that I can say, in some way, I am ready for Wimbledon. I played Roland Garros as a preparation,” she told Reuters.
Kvitova, who plays fellow Czech Tereza Smitkova in Birmingham on Tuesday, said she had been overwhelmed by the welcome she got from fellow players and others in the game.
“It was amazing. I was really looking forward to seeing other players and coaches (but) I didn’t expect that huge welcome from all of them. It was so nice to see them all smiling and wishing me good luck and welcoming me back,” she said.
She can expect much more of that when she turns up at the All England Club where she enjoyed a surprise win over Maria Sharapova in the 2011 final and then triumphed again three years later, beating Canadian Eugenie Bouchard.
“I love the people there. I love England. At Wimbledon, it feels so quiet, so comfy, for me as a home. I am always renting a house and for me it is more than a tournament, I feel like we are a family there. It is just more relaxed for me, it is amazing,” she said.
Kvitova was an eighth-ranked 21-year-old when she first won Wimbledon and she admits she did not really know how to handle the moment.
“The first one was like a fairytale, I have to say. I really didn’t know what was happening. I won the grand slam but I was like ‘OK, what now?’. It was really happiness but I never expected to win that, so it was a surprise for me and other people. The second one was more special, deeper, I really enjoyed it more,” said the Czech.
It would be a major surprise if, after everything that has happened, Kvitova were to claim a third Wimbledon title.
While she is back in action, her hand remains troublesome and she is not sure if it will ever fully be back to how it was.
“Naturally, it is not fully recovered, it will still take a few more months, maybe a year, who knows, no one can really say,” she said.
“I am not sure if any day it will be 100 percent, I don’t think so but I just need to do what I can.”
She added: “I need to live with it. I think I will have to get used to my ‘new hand’ if I can call it that, we are still worried about some inflammation and that kind of thing but I think it is a small risk, now compared to a few months ago.”
There has also been a healing process psychologically as she dealt with the shock of the violent intrusion in her house.
“It wasn’t easy. I would lie if I said it was easy. The first days, first months, were very difficult mentally as well, I do have my mental coach so I was working with him a lot on this but I have to say that people around me, family and friends, helped me a lot as well. I think I am getting over it,” she said.
“It will probably still be there for the rest of my life but I think I will deal with it somehow.”
The past year has also given Kvitova a different perspective on her profession and one she will take with her to Wimbledon.
“I think the main thing is that I love playing tennis and love to be back and that is what I am really enjoying now. Probably I have never enjoyed tennis as much I do know – it is a beautiful feeling, I have to say.
“I always loved to play tennis but now it is a different level. That is what is important for me right now, it doesn’t matter how many matches, if I win or lose or whatever, I will just enjoy it.
“Of course I am back because I want to win some big tournaments, but it is not just that I am going there because of that. I am just really glad I can play tennis again”.
(Reporting by Simon Evans; Editing by Alison Williams)