The 2019 Australian Open has so far provided a number of thrilling matches and moments for insomniac tennis junkies like myself.
Defending champion Roger Federer was unseated from his throne by the exciting 20-year-old Stefanos Tsitsipas.
Angie Kerber, another former champion, was destroyed by Danielle Collins, a player who had never won a grand slam match before this fortnight. Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic, Rafa Nadal and Naomi Osaka look as strong as ever.
A subplot worth mentioning concerns a player who is lucky to be playing tennis at all, let alone at grand slam level.
In the very early hours of Tuesday morning, Ash Barty, the delightfully tricky Aussie, was dismantled by Petra Kvitova 6-1 6-4 in front of a very polite crowd.
Barty saw winner after winner fizz past her as Kvitova showed the ball striking that brought her two Wimbledon titles.
“I don’t think it was a slow start,” the Aussie said afterwards. “It was more of a Petra start. She took the match away from me.”
Two years ago, the sport was nearly taken away from Kvitova.
In December 2016, while staying in her apartment in Prostejov, Czech Republic, the 28-year-old was attacked by a man with a knife. The burglar, who claimed to be from the electric company, slashed Kvitova’s left hand as she defended herself.
The attacker fled the scene while the professional tennis player was left with severed nerves and tendons on her playing hand and the dreadful trauma of the incident.
Four hours of surgery were needed to repair Kvitova’s fingers and the prognosis was unclear as a cast was placed on her arm.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) April 17, 2017
Kvitova spent the first half of 2017 undergoing rehab with the optimistic dream of returning at Roland Garros.
Still unable to fully grip the racquet, nor feel the handle with all of her fingers, the Czech miraculously strode onto Philippe Chatrier in Paris that May. She was once again a professional tennis player.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) May 28, 2017
In that first match back, Kvitova fulfilled the fairy tale and defeated Julia Boserup 6-3 6-2. She fell in the second round to Bethanie Mattek-Sands but rebounded with an extraordinary run to the title in her next tournament, Birmingham.
Winning has become a habit for the Czech in the time since as her hand continues to heal and confidence blossoms.
2018 was a magnificent campaign for Kvitova as she captured titles at St. Petersburg, Doha, Prague, Madrid and Birmingham. That excellent form propelled her to a top four a place in the WTA rankings, just two short of her career high.
The only element missing last year was a decent run at a major. The Czech couldn’t make it to the second week of any of the slams and crashed out of her beloved Wimbledon in the first round.
A woman of supreme resilience, those concerns have already disappeared in the first month of the new year.
Just ten days ago, career title no.26 arrived in Kvitova’s trophy cabinet as she conquered the field in Sydney.
The confidence gained from that week has only grown in Melbourne as she has ripped through her section of the Australian Open draw.
Kvitova hasn’t dropped a set this fortnight as Magdalena Rybarikova, Irina Camelia Begu, Belinda Bencic, Amanda Anisimova and Ashleigh Barty fell to her blistering groundstrokes and slice serve.
In the post-match interview after the semi-final, Jim Courier wondered if Kvitova ever lost belief that she would play this level of tennis again.
Watch her answer below and just embrace the tears!
.@Petra_Kvitova is into her first Slam semifinal since a knife stabbing incident in late 2016 sidelined her from the sport.
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 22, 2019
Breakout star Danielle Collins stands in the way of Kvitova reaching a third grand slam final. As an added bonus, if the Czech goes on to claim the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup, she would also move up to world no.1.
If that happens, the women’s game could not find a better ambassador to lead it.