While I, like most of the rest of the tennis world, first came to know Petra Kvitova when she won the 2011 Wimbledon championships, I first became her fan at the Year-Ending Championships (YEC) the same year.
That fandom had a bizarre beginning. Why, you might ask? What drew me so to this shy 21-year-old who happened to win Wimbledon and then the YEC?
She didn’t shriek during points, vis-Ã -vis Maria Sharapova or Victoria Azarenka. No, Petra let out a pterydactyl-like shriek of “POJD!” after every winning point. I know a lot of people detested it. But I adored it. I think I related to the unbridled enthusiasm that led to that piercing exultation.
As I watched Petra win the YEC, I – along with much of the tennis world- felt like I was seeing the next World #1.
That, of course, was not meant to be. Azarenka, Sharapova, and Williams played Ping-Pong with the #1 ranking, resting finally with Williams. Petra, meanwhile, stumbled early and often, increasingly revealing a maddening inconsistency and tendency to struggle to control her nerves.
Yet even as frustrating as it was for me to watch her fail to fulfill her potential again and again, at the same time I learned more about her as a person (outside of her tennis), and it made me like her more. I learned she was shy and found coping with her Wimbledon fame difficult. (That’s something I can understand, as a shy person myself.) I learned she was down-to-earth and sweet. I learned she was a hard worker, constantly working to improve her fitness, patience, and nerve.
When Petra joined Twitter, I followed her immediately, and her persona there left her down-to-earth fingerprints everywhere. After her losses, she would thank fans for their support and promise to continue working hard, which I found endearing.
Sometime between 2013 and now, Petra earned the somewhat mocking nickname of “P3TRA,” owing to her unfortunate propensity for playing 3-set matches, almost regardless of the level of her opponent. How she found out about the nickname, I don’t know, but she did and embraced it. A few times she tweeted and referred to herself with that nickname, like so:
If there’s anyone I love more than a down-to-earth sweetheart, it’s a down-to-earth sweetheart who doesn’t take herself seriously. Petra’s embrace of P3TRA made me love her all the more.
After Wimbledon 2013, when Petra lost to Kirsten Flipkens in the quarterfinals, I basically gave up hope that she would win another major title. But I couldn’t stop being her fan. By this time, not only was I a fan of the person, I was also a diehard fan of the game.
When she’s on, Petra has an easy power that enables her to hit jaw-dropping winners from anywhere on the court. She has a great lefty serve and deceptively sweet touch at the net. Her movement, traditionally a liability (tough to move a 6-foot frame quickly), has improved over the years.
Sure, there’s lots to admire in the games of the other top women: the nearly weakness-free, devastating power and variety of Serena; the tough-as-nails and never-say-die attitude of Maria; the creativity and variety of Aga Radwanska; the consistency and toughness of Victoria. But I can’t help adoring Petra Kvitova — maddening inconsistency, frustrating nerves, P3TRA and all.
No one’s winning smile makes me happier. And I am so very, very proud of her for having made the Wimbledon final once again. She might not win, but she’s fought so much nonsense within herself to get there.
My love affair with Novak Djokovic goes back far longer ago than my Petra fandom. It’s necessary to start with a bit of background. I was a diehard Pete Sampras fan from 1990 to his retirement in 2003. For several years afterward, I barely kept track of tennis, and so I wasn’t really ready to embrace a new dominant champion. In fact, Roger Federer’s dominance kind of offended me. People embraced him far more readily than they embraced Pete, and he started threatening (and overtaking) all of my boy’s records.
For that reason I was delighted by the emergence of Rafael Nadal when he began to challenge Federer. But I couldn’t quite bring myself to fully embrace him either. It might have been that I couldn’t bring myself to adore his game. Call it elitist and snobbish if you must, but I couldn’t bring myself to love his grinding game after years of adoring the floating Sampras (and the balletic Stefan Edberg before him).
Then, in 2007, I heard bits and pieces, rumblings if you will, about some Serbian kid named Novak Djokovic. I heard he had started challenging Federer and Nadal a bit, even beating them both at a hard court Masters tournament. I didn’t pay a tremendous amount of attention, though, until the U.S. Open. I don’t remember the round, but I remembered feeling a little frustrated with my lack of whole-hearted desire to follow tennis, and then I happened to turn on the TV and found that Novak was about to play.
I thought, I’ve heard of this guy, but I’ve never seen him play. Let’s check him out.
It was love at first sight. I fell head-over-heels in love with his tennis. I loved the defense. I loved how he seemed to track everything down and send it back with interest. I loved his easy, fluid service motion. I loved his spirit and fight.
And then, after he won, the on-court interviewer asked him if he would be willing to do some impersonations. After he impersonated both Maria and Rafa, I died laughing and fell even more deeply in love. This boy, I thought, has SPUNK. He’s FUN.
I never looked back, and 7 years later, I’m still proud to be a Novak Djokovic fan.
Much like Petra Kvitova, I found out more about Novak off-court over the years, and it led me to love him even more. I learned about his intense love for his home country of Serbia and all the work he did to try to better life for the natives of his homeland. I saw his tremendous sense of humor and refusal to take himself too seriously.
On court, aside from the tennis, I saw a lot to admire as well. I saw the applause for his opponents’ winners, both when he was ahead in the scoreline and when he was behind. I saw the willingness to concede points to his opponents after faulty line calls – again, both from a winning and a losing position. I saw the deep respect for everyone on the court. I saw genuine handshakes as well as hugs after matches both won and lost.
Over the years I’ve heard a lot of complaints about some of the things Novak has done that had him labeled as “arrogant” or “disrespectful” or even “classless.” Some of these things, of course, I wish he wouldn’t have done. I’ll forever cringe at the memory of the 2008 U.S. Open post-match interview following a win over Andy Roddick. I wasn’t really paying much attention to tennis after Novak retired from a match versus Rafa at the French Open and asserted that he had been “in control” of said match, but if I had been, I probably also would have considered him arrogant (as well as ridiculous).
However… no one is perfect, and especially when one is young and has been deeply invested in by his family since he was even younger, mistakes and missteps are inevitable. But I have seen Novak grow and mature and settle into an young man (I’m 13 years older than he is, I can call him “young!”) who conducts himself with great dignity and integrity.
I am fully aware that Novak continues to have tremendous flaws, some of which absolutely harm him on the court. One of them is his desperation for crowd love. I hate that crowds so often root against him, but I hate even more that he lets it affect him as much as it does. Maybe because I have fought with a lifelong desperation for people to like me, it frustrates me that he hasn’t yet learned to let it go. He has certainly gotten better, but he’s still a work in progress.
Of course, like most of Novak’s fans, I’m also frustrated by his recent difficulties in Grand Slam finals. We were spoiled by his near-inability to lose major matches in 2011 and the beginning of 2012, only to see him crash and burn repeatedly on the sport’s biggest stages since then. Though he’s been arguably the most consistent man on the tour over the past 4 years, it’s devastating to see so few Grand Slam titles result from all that consistency.
But much like I can’t quit Petra, even with her struggles, I know I’ll never quit my Novak fandom either. I’ve watched tennis for most of my life, and not a single player has made me as fiercely proud to be a fan as Novak Djokovic has. On and off the court, no tennis player has delighted me more.
And after all his difficulties, I couldn’t be prouder that Novak keeps reaching the final round of majors, including this one.
Godspeed, Petra Kvitova and Novak Djokovic. Best wishes for your Wimbledon finals. I’ll continue to love you both, no matter what happens.