In Good Conscience

Kvitova's success brings joy after months on a knife-edge

The comeback of Petra Kvitova in time for Wimbledon puts a smile on the face of tennis. And of sports.

But the coming together of Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel in Baku last weekend gave the impression that motor racing is the preserve of self-obsessed boy racers.

By overcoming the horror of having tendons and nerves in her racket hand severed in a knife attack in December last year, Kvitova has shown inspiring bravery. By playing dodgems with multi-million dollar racing machines, the two leaders of Formula One show their shallow side.

Kvitova won a Wimbledon warm-up event in Birmingham, middle England, this week. It was her first full event since the trauma, mental as well as physical, of the attack by an intruder in her own apartment in the Czech Republic.

A knife was put to her throat and in trying to save her neck she grabbed at the weapon. The fingers were saved in a four-hour operation during which the surgeon had to reattach tendons to each finger.

Stabbed by a blade, repaired by a scalpel, and restored by her own deep desire to save the career that she discovered she loved more than she knew.

Heroism defined.

Petra Kvitova on her way to winning the Aegon Classic in Birmingham last week, her first title since suffering knife wounds last December.
Petra Kvitova on her way to winning the Aegon Classic in Birmingham last week, her first title since suffering knife wounds last December. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indeed, let us get the road rage issue out of the way and concentrate on the beauty of this tennis story. Hamilton provoked the ire of Vettel by suddenly slowing behind the safety car at Azerbaijan. The dastardly Lewis.

Vettel was petulant, at best, in his reaction. He put his foot down and deliberately barged his Ferrari into the side of Hamilton's Mercedes.

The stewards gave Vettel a 10-second stop-go penalty. But the FIA has since referred the matter to the court of appeal, meaning that there could be a more draconian punishment before the Austrian Grand Prix next weekend.

Stabbed by a blade, repaired by a scalpel, and restored by her own deep desire to save the career that she discovered she loved more than she knew.

Heroism defined.

That announcement sent Twitter fingers moving. "Azerbaijan GP was a pleasure to watch," Jenson Button stated on Thursday. "Why? Because adrenaline and emotions were high. What Vettel did was silly but he's been punished. Move on."

Former world champion Button added: "I don't think you can class it as road rage when it's not on the road. You can't compare racing with driving on the road, racing wouldn't exist."

Clean racing might. There is a danger that F1, especially under its new American ownership, will consider the controversy as good for their ratings.

Indeed, the old ruler, now Formula One's chairman emeritus, Bernie Ecclestone said this: "What happened in Baku (Azerbaijan) is good all round.

"I'm certain Lewis slowed down to try to damage Sebastian's front wing. Sebastian was understandably frustrated and he just gave Lewis a little message."

The message behind the message is that controversy attracts attention. F1 craves a rivalry fuelled by personal animosity. Like Ayrton Senna v Alain Prost 30 years ago. Like Michael Schumacher driving just about any rival who got in his way off the track.

Senna and Schumacher were gods of F1 in a different era, when the sport was less safe.

Hamilton and Vettel are in safer cars. It would be nice if they demonstrated that they are also safe hands at the wheel.

Move on, as the man said.

Kvitova is a terrific player on grass. And while she says she has come back with a different perspective on life, she showed enough in winning the Aegon Classic in Birmingham to suggest that Wimbledon has mightily underestimated her by making her the 11th seed.

She won Wimbledon in 2011 by beating Maria Sharapova in straight sets, and won it again in 2014, once more in straights sets against Eugenie Bouchard.

Serena Williams and Sharapova are not competing at Wimbledon this year. But in their absence, take note of Kvitova's fast and supremely angled serves, and the power she generates with her groundstrokes.

"You are an inspiration," Ashleigh Barty, her vanquished opponent in last Sunday's final at Birmingham, told her on microphone.

"We missed you, we love you."

Nice words, well meant. Barty is a tough, pugnacious Australian. She threw everything she had at Kvitova in a final lasting almost two hours.

But her sentiments were genuine. And it is heartening to hear from Kvitova how the text messages and the calls multiplied from opponents while she missed the Australian Open and other big events in her five months of enforced rest.

The surgeon had warned that she might have only a one-in-100 chance of a full recovery. So Kvitova, 27, considered what else she might do. She turned down a BBC offer to join the commentary team for Wimbledon, saying if she was not playing she would not just come to watch.

She enrolled for a course in communications and social media at Prague University, making a plan for life after tennis.

What we did not see was Kvitova exercising the fingers and the damaged nerves in her left hand, her tennis hand, one finger at a time, one hour, then three, four, five hours a day.

Then the painstaking comeback, the work abroad with her coach Jiri Vanek and fitness trainer David Vydra to push and push. The hand, the body, the mind, all needed careful rehabilitation.

Perhaps the mind more than anything else.

She needed wild cards to enter tournaments. At the French Open, on clay, she wasn't ready. She won her first round, lost the second, and admitted she was in a battle to concentrate on the tennis.

The burglar in her flat remains at large. During Roland Garros, he was occasionally in her flashbacks during change of ends.

But the beauty behind the smile is that opponents who will be out to win on court, kept in touch.

"Simona and Angie and Aga texted me," she said, referring to Halep, Kerber and Radwanska. "I got new phone numbers as well. I look at the girls a little bit differently because many of them surprised me the way they showed they cared."

They will still want to beat her at Wimbledon. But, memo to Hamilton and Vettel, there is winning nice or winning ugly.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 01, 2017, with the headline 'Kvitova's success brings joy after months on a knife-edge'. Print Edition | Subscribe