LONDON (Reuters) - Softly-spoken 21-year-old Czech Petra Kvitova celebrated her Wimbledon singles title with a shy smile on Saturday, a stark contrast to the destructive tennis she employed to destroy former champion Maria Sharapova on Centre Court.
Rarely in her career has baseline blaster Sharapova been so overpowered on a tennis court but the 2004 champion and former world number one had no answer on Saturday as she was made to look lightweight in a comprehensive 6-3 6-4 defeat.
Sharapova’s imposing fiance, NBA player Sasha Vujacic, watched on in her box and there were times when he must have been tempted to run on and protect his future bride from the kind battering she usually inflicts on opponents.
With impeccable timing eighth seed Kvitova saved her one ace for match point but the damage from her wicked left-handed delivery and meaty groundstrokes was already done.
“I knew that I have to be the first who is playing hard and who is making the points. So I tried it,” Kvitova, the first player born in the 1990s to win a grand slam title, said.
She struggled to put her achievement into words.
“It was unbelievable feeling, for sure. So I was so happy. I don’t know. It’s strange,” she said.
Kvitova is the first Czech to win the Wimbledon singles since Jana Novotna in 1998 and only the third left-hander to lift the Venus Rosewater Dish in the professional era.
Martina Navratilova, the best lefty of all time who last lifted the dish here in 1990, sat in the Royal Box along with Novotna and both would have been mightily impressed by the composure and fearless hitting of Kvitova.
They would have found it hard to relate to the kind of tennis served up on the showpiece occasion, however.
Rallies came and went in the blink of an eye with a bish and bash, volleys were virtually redundant as was the slice, apart from the sliding first serves which Kvitova used to great effect to outwit the long-limbed Sharapova.
That tends to be the way with the new breed of baseline sluggers but while the match will not feature in many highlights packages it was proof that Kvitova is ready to become a regular threat at grand slams.
A semi-finalist here last year when she lost to eventual champion Serena Williams after arriving at Wimbledon without a grasscourt win to her name, Kvitova’s game is lethal on fast surfaces.
Despite a nervy opening game when she dropped her serve after being asked to start by Sharapova, she quickly began peppering the baseline with whistling groundstrokes that gave the former world number one no chance to open her broad shoulder and launch her own grass burners.
Sharapova was continually playing catch-up in the rallies as Kvitova got the first blow in and spent much of a cool afternoon in south west London half-volleying from the baseline as the eighth seed pounded the baseline.
Kvitova took the opening set in 40 minutes, the first set Sharapova had dropped all tournament, and only briefly did she wobble as the finish line neared in the second.
The Czech went 2-0 up but Sharapova fought back to 2-2 when Kvitova watched a lob float over her head after failing to put away a simple forehand with wide open spaces beckoning.
Thoughts turned to the turning point in Rafa Nadal’s semi-final defeat of Andy Murray when his opponent fluffed a similar shot but Kvitova was made of sterner stuff and refused to let one of the game’s fiercest competitors take command.
Three consecutive breaks of serve followed but Kvitova held to lead 5-3 and although Sharapova then held to at least make Kvitova serve for victory, the expected attack of nerves did not materialise.
A couple of clubbing forehands and then a desperate Sharapova lash into the net brought up three match points. Kvitova needed just the one, bashing a serve down the middle before tossing her racket over her shoulder in celebration.
“I was surprised how I was feeling on the court because I was focussed only on the point and on the game and not on the final and the medal,” Kvitova, who said she cried after meeting Novotna and Navratilova afterwards, told reporters.
It was a chastening experience for Sharapova, although after fearing for her career in 2008 when she needed surgery on her shoulder she has proved that, at 24, she still has the class to add to her three grand slam titles.
For her the past month, when she also reached the French Open semi-finals and will return to the world’s top five, has all been positive.
“This is a big step,” said Sharapova, whose last grand slam final appearance was the 2008 Australian Open.
“It’s a big step considering that my results here in the last few years haven’t been that good. It’s a big step because my game is improving, and it’s a big step because it gives me a tremendous amount of confidence going forward.”
While the women’s final was a one-dimensional affair, American twins Bob and Mike Bryan livened up proceedings in their own inimitable chest-thumping way by winning their second Wimbledon doubles crown.
The top seeds beat Robert Lindstedt and Horia Tecau 6-3 6-4 7-6 for their 11th grand slam title -- level with Australian record holders Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde.
Reporting by Martyn Herman, editing by Pritha Sarkar