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Petra Kvitova Is The Most Unpredictable Player In Women’s Tennis

Petra Kvitova, the tennis star from the Czech Republic, is 6-feet tall, left-handed and can crush her forehand and serve. She has won Wimbledon twice in her career, the only currently active woman to accomplish that feat besides Venus and Serena Williams, who each won their first two from 2000 to 2003. At the moment, Kvitova is ranked No. 6 in the world, and was once ranked No. 2. The week before this year’s Australian Open began, she won the Sydney International by thumping four players, including three-time Slam champion Angelique Kerber, and beating the relentless Ashleigh Barty in a three-set final.

Oh, one more thing: There’s good reason to believe she won’t last long in this month’s Australian Open. Of all the women with at least two major titles since 1968, when the Open Era began, none have lost as often, on average, at Slams as Kvitova, the master of disaster.

On Monday in Melbourne, Kvitova had an unusual performance: She easily won her first round match by beating Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets, 6-3, 6-2. Kvitova looked a bit shaky in the first set, when she lost her serve twice and landed just 45 percent of her first serves. But she was much cleaner in the second set, and now — maybe — she can relax and have a strong tournament. She also could improve her winning percentage at majors, which was 70.2 percent at the start of the tournament, the lowest figure among the two-or-better Slam winners in the women’s Open Era.

Kvitova’s Slam performances are the worst of her peers

Winners of multiple Grand Slams by Grand Slam record, 1968-2018*

Player Wins Loses Win%
Margaret Court 96 10 90.6%
Steffi Graf 278 32 89.7%
Chris Evert 299 37 89.0%
Serena Williams 331 45 88.0%
Martina Navratilova 306 49 86.2%
Monica Seles 180 31 85.3%
Billie Jean King 127 24 84.1%
Justine Henin 141 28 83.4%
Martina Hingis 153 32 82.7%
Evonne Goolagong Cawley 129 27 82.7%
Kim Clijsters 132 31 81.0%
Tracy Austin 61 15 80.3%
Maria Sharapova 194 49 79.8%
Arantxa Sanchez Vicario 210 54 79.5%
Lindsay Davenport 198 51 79.5%
Venus Williams 266 72 78.7%
Hana Mandlikova 142 40 78.0%
Jennifer Capriati 140 40 77.8%
Amelie Mauresmo 131 43 75.3%
Victoria Azarenka 124 42 74.7%
Li Na 90 31 74.4%
Mary Pierce 142 50 74.0%
Garbine Muguruza 60 22 73.2%
Svetlana Kuznetsova 152 61 71.4%
Virginia Wade 122 49 71.3%
Angelique Kerber 98 41 70.5%
Petra Kvitova 92 39 70.2%

*Excluding this year’s Australian Open

Source: WTA

There are seven other active women who, like Kvitova, have won at least two major titles. All of them have won more of their matches at Slams (Kerber, who had 10 first-round major losses in her first five years on the tour, is still ahead of Kvitova with 70.5 percent). Since Kvitova’s second Slam victory, she has gone no further than the quarterfinals at a major. She has only done that twice, both times at the U.S. Open, in 2015 and 2017. In the rest of her majors she has not gotten past the fourth round. In her career, Kvitova has lost in the first round of a Slam nine times. Serena Williams, who has won 23 majors, is 331-45 at Slams (88 percent) and has lost in the first round only once.

Two of Kvitova’s first-round losses occurred last year, in the Australian Open and Wimbledon, the best tournament for her game. (At Wimbledon, she lost to Aliaksandra Sasnovich 6-0 in the third set of their match. Sasnovich had never gone past the third round of a Slam.)

So how can a player with so much talent, and so much power, end up looking timid and uncertain? After a promising career start, Kvitova approaches the early rounds of Slams as calmly as when parachuting from an airplane. “When I was younger, I played better on the Grand Slams than the other tournaments,” she said after losing in the first round of Wimbledon last year. “Now is the time when I’m playing better on the other tournaments.” Asked more about the defeat, she said: “The nerves were there again.”

Worries at the beginning of a Grand Slam tournament are not uncommon — even Roger Federer, who has won 20, has spoken about being nervous in the first round. But the best players in the world usually overcome that.

Some of Kvitova’s more recent woes could be due to the time she was attacked at home by a man with a knife in December of 2016. She didn’t return to the game until the 2017 French Open, which she lost in the second round (she had the same result at Wimbledon). But later that year at the U.S. Open, she reached the quarterfinals, her best result since 2015.

Kvitova still has time to cure her Grand Slam disease. She is 28 years old and a natural on the grass of Wimbledon, despite her first-round loss there last year. At the Australian Open, she has an excellent draw, facing unranked players until the fourth round. Her opponent in that round could be Aryna Sabalenka, an up-and-coming 20-year-old who was beaten in straight sets by Kvitova in the Sydney International. Sabalenka is seeded No. 11.

Even if Kvitova never improves her Slam winning percentage and finishes her career in last place, well, someone has to be there. She could just call herself the most unpredictable multi-Slam winner in women’s tennis history — not ideal, but definitely unique.

Tom Perrotta is a tennis writer based out of Brooklyn and frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal.