Though Petra Kvitova had not reached a Wimbledon singles final since 2014, she is still a two-time Wimbledon champion with a deserved reputation as a dangerous grass-court player.
Kvitova’s game is volatile — which made it hard to place complete trust in her game at this or any other recent Wimbledon tournament — but when the shots are landing in, Petra’s game sings and soars on grass in ways it doesn’t on other surfaces. That point aside, Wimbledon will always be the place Kvitova associates with the best memories of her career. SW19 is a more comfortable place for Petra than New York, Paris, or Melbourne, if we are to compare the four major-tournament locales. It is a more comfortable place than most tour stops for Petra.
Wimbledon is a place where women who grew up in Czechoslovakia have tasted much success, and Kvitova carried that torch in the early 2010s. At a Wimbledon where anything is possible on the women’s side, it was entirely reasonable to think Kvitova could cultivate a comfort zone.
Instead, Sloane Stephens looked like the consummately comfortable — and superior — player on Centre Court on Monday.
Making Kvitova hit an extra ball and playing the calm, patient tennis which marks her at her best, Stephens — fit and focused — looked every ounce like a major title contender in a 6-3, 6-4 dismissal of Kvitova.
Stephens made the fourth round of Roland Garros before getting demolished by Barbora Krejcikova. The lopsided nature of that loss made it seem as though Sloane left something on the table, and to be honest, that might still be true to a degree. Yet, Krejcikova stormed to the Roland Garros championship, which certainly casts that loss by Stephens in a different light.
Something DID awaken within Sloane in Paris. She came to Wimbledon wondering — along with the rest of us — if she would be able to maintain an upward trajectory.
Beating Petra Kvitova on Centre Court certainly offers an encouraging answer and a lot of positive indicators. Doing so with relative ease makes Stephens even more central to the story of this Wimbledon after one day of play.
Let’s remind ourselves about Sloane: This IS a major champion. This IS a player with a high ceiling. The raw material is there, and it has been. Putting the pieces together (which Sloane did in late 2017 and much of 2018) is one trick. Keeping them together is the bigger trick once a big achievement (2017 U.S. Open championship) has been accomplished.
Sloane Stephens is here at Wimbledon, trying to regain elite form and compensate for previous majors which slipped away.
Even Stephens? No.
Believin’ Stephens? Yes.