By all accounts, Petra Kvitova was supposed to challenge for Grand Slam titles, if not the No. 1 ranking. At least that's what we thought after she stormed out of the All England Club in 2011 with a title in tow. A few months later, Kvitova would end the year in as much of a groove as anyone in recent memory after she beat down the field at the WTA Championships without losing a match and then won Fed Cup. It looked as if she was the fresh face who was leading the charge to a new era of women's tennis.
But the spotlight became too unsettling for her. The shy, introverted Kvitova never felt comfortable when newfound fame came barreling at her before she was ready to embrace it.
Nearly three years later, it appears the sixth-seeded Kvitova hasn't made any significant strides. On Monday, she was ushered out of the first round of the Australian Open with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 loss to No. 88-ranked Luksika Kumkhum. It was, for all intents and purposes, an ugly way to start a new season.
"Obviously my priority was to improve my movement on the court, [but] I didn't show that today actually," Kvitova told reporters after the match. "I had a great preseason. I work very hard. I had great matches on my back and I was just trying, and probably I put a lot of pressure on my back."
This marks only the second time Kvitova has suffered a first-round defeat at a major in the past two-plus years. Ironically, the last time came just months after winning Wimbledon, at the 2011 US Open.
Kvitova is the rare kind of player -- tall, lefty, powerful -- who has all the physical tools to win. She has a penetrating serve to challenge the likes of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. But all that promise devolved into somewhat of a puzzling existence. In 2013, Kvitova made it past the third round of a major but one time. She has just four titles since the start of 2012, an underwhelming total for someone of her talent.
"When I have a warm-up, [I felt] quite OK, was good," Kvitova said. "So probably before my match I was nervous. Every time my legs are not moving well, so that's the thing when I started to feel it.
"Normally after like set or something it's a little bit better. But it wasn't today. So I was lucky that I won second set probably."
She wasn't as lucky in the third.
An inauspicious start
Sara Errani is following in Kvitova's footsteps, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Errani, who had a tough first-round opponent, was handed a decisive 6-3, 6-2 loss by Julia Goerges in a match that lasted only 1 hour, 17 minutes.
But how much of a surprise was this? Not much, at least according to ESPN.com's field of experts. Of the 11 analysts and journalists, six selected her as their early exit. And why not? Her Slam losses since the start of 2013 look like this: Australian Open (Round 1); French Open (semis, but she always plays well on clay); Wimbledon (first round); US Open (second round).
Errani, the seventh seed in Australia, is a diminutive player whose clawing and scrapping bodes well on the cloying clay of Roland Garros. But she simply isn't strong enough in today's game that features bigger, stronger players who can pretty much have their way with the Italian.