MUMBAI (Reuters) – Petra Kvitova has 27 career titles but winning an all-Czech exhibition tournament last week was a different experience for her and it felt “weird” to play in the absence of fans, the two-time Wimbledon champion told Reuters.
The Prague tournament was one of the few global exhibition events held after professional tennis was suspended in early March as countries went into lockdown to contain the spread of COVID-19.
While it was still a special occasion for the former world number two to lift the trophy at her home tennis club where she had won a WTA event two years back, the feeling was not the same.
“I’m happy with the win for sure but it was a different kind of tournament,” said the 30-year-old, who wore the dress she had chosen for the postponed French Open. “Playing without fans was very weird as well.
“We hit some unbelievable winners and nobody was clapping, so it’s been really tough. But on the other hand it’s nice to have the game-feeling again.”
With motivation lacking to practise and train, Kvitova found it tough to mentally prepare for the event. The first match was most difficult as her focus was drawn to the empty stands. It was after reaching the semi-finals that she was able to concentrate more on her game.
But left with no other choice, Kvitova said players would learn to adapt.
“For me it was really different that I couldn’t have the towel between the points. It took a while to go for the towels, so I just left it on the bench,” she said in an interview.
“For me it was pretty annoying and, of course, the ball boys couldn’t hold it for me. And I didn’t know we couldn’t shake hands after the match. It felt such an ungentlemanlike thing.”
GRAND SLAM FUTURE
Currently the professional circuit has been suspended at least until the end of July. Wimbledon was cancelled for the first time since World War II while the French Open has been postponed to September. The fate of the U.S. Open in New York will be decided this month.
While playing in presence of fans remains Kvitova’s preference, she said players also need the sport to resume.
“It’s tough to think about Grand Slams without fans,” she said. “It’s really tough because fans are very important for players … if we are playing Grand Slams without fans, it will be very sad.
“But still better to have a Grand Slam than no Grand Slams.”
Kvitova, currently ranked 12th, said she will not enjoy being in quarantine ahead of a tournament.
“It will be very difficult to be in quarantine in a foreign country and the hotel room for two weeks. It wouldn’t be very nice for sure,” she said, adding that it would be “great” if tournaments restart in August. “So it will be a tough decision.”
Kvitova required surgery on a stab wound to her racket hand she suffered during an attack by a knife-wielding home intruder in 2016. Besides the mental trauma, the incident also taught her to cope with waiting on the sidelines.
“I missed tennis for five months when I had to really work (hard) to be back playing. I really missed it when I saw the other girls playing a tournament and fighting,” she said.
“We are all waiting to see what the future brings for us and we know that one day we’re going to be back.”
(Reporting by Sudipto Ganguly; editing by Christian Radnedge)