MELBOURNE (AFP) - A tearful Petra Kvitova said she felt her comeback from a terrifying knife attack was finally complete on Tuesday (Jan 22) after powering into the Australian Open semi-finals.
The Czech eighth seed downed local hope Ashleigh Barty 6-1, 6-4 to extend a 10-match winning streak that has made her this year's form player on the women's tour.
The 28-year-old, who will meet unseeded American Danielle Collins in the final four, said she feared her career was over after she was attacked in her home in the Czech Republic in late 2016.
"Thank you guys, I didn't really imagine being back in this great stadium again to play with the best. It's great," said Kvitova, who required extensive surgery after the burglar slashed her racket hand, leaving her with permanent nerve damage.
Kvitova won two Wimbledon titles before the attack, but the left-hander had not excelled at Grand Slams since returning from the injury.
She said her second, post-injury career was now on track after making the final four in Melbourne.
"I'm calling it as my second career. So it's the first semi-final of the second career," she said. "It took me while, for sure but I've never really played so well on the Grand Slams.
"So I'm happy this time. It's different. I'm really enjoying it."
She said her experience had put tennis into perspective, allowing her to enjoy playing more.
"I'm seeing life a little bit differently compared to before. I know it's just sport, it's just tennis," she said.
"(Though) you always want to do your best, of course."
Meanwhile, Kvitova's semi-final opponent Collins revealed that she never thought she had the talent to make it as a professional tennis player.
The 25-year-old American is enjoying a dream run in her first appearance at the season-opening Grand Slam, making the final four with a 2-6, 7-5, 6-1 win over Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
It was Collins' toughest test yet at Melbourne Park, but the Florida native said she was mentally tough after working her way up through the sport's backblocks.
"It's a little bit new to me," she said when asked how she was enjoying playing on the Grand Slam stage.
"This time last year I was playing a challenger in Newport Beach. But, yeah, I'm really embracing it."
Collins, who has mostly played on the US college circuit, grabbed the tennis world's attention with a 6-0, 6-2 drubbing of second seed Angelique Kerber in the fourth round.
She was unable to repeat that sizzling form against Pavlyuchenkova but was pleased she worked out a way to come from behind and make her more experienced opponent wilt under pressure.
"I knew that she was nervous. I knew that she was physically deteriorating," said Collins.
"I decided that I wanted to play some long points, extend some rallies. I went after my shots at the right time."
Collins had never won a match at a Grand Slam in five previous attempts before her Cinderella run at Melbourne Park.
She has been a late bloomer in a sport notorious for putting talented youngsters under pressure from an early age, saying she was not a standout player as a teen and took "a different route" to the top.
"I think not being a child prodigy, not being a superstar at a young age certainly humbled me, made me in a way work harder for things," she said.
"I was talented and athletic, but maybe not to the level that other players were at, like, 14, 15, 16.
"I was kind of like playing from behind because I wasn't a child prodigy, I went a different route. I wasn't really sure if I could make it playing professional tennis when I was that age."
Instead of going on the women's tour, Collins graduated in media studies while playing tennis in the US college system, crediting it with making her a more mature person and keeping her humble.
"It's kind of made me hungrier in some ways," she said. "Not having that, 'Oh, I've always been really amazing at tennis (attitude)'.
"It wasn't always like that for me. I wasn't always great or good."