WIMBLEDON, England — Maria Sharapova brought the star wattage of the world’s highest-paid female athlete to Wimbledon’s Centre Court Saturday.
But it was “just an ordinary girl,” as Petra Kvitova’s coach described his charge, who strode off with the championship, toppling the tournament’s 2004 victor and heavy favorite, 6-3, 6-4, with uncommon power and poise.
Competing in her first Grand Slam final, the 21-year-old Kvitova didn’t play her best tennis of the Wimbledon fortnight. But she didn’t have to against Sharapova, whose quest for a fourth major title, and her first since undergoing shoulder surgery in 2008, was undercut by her erratic serve.
Sharapova, broken five times in nine service games, also was often a step behind in rallies, as if startled by the pace and depth of Kvitova’s mighty groundstrokes.
But what was more notable about the match than the standard of play was Kvitova’s emergence as a steely challenger with the mental strength that women’s tennis has lacked in recent years, apart from Venus and Serena Williams and Sharapova.
“She was a total champion,” said Kvitova’s coach, David Kotyza. “[Yet] she is just an ordinary girl. She’s standing with both feet on the ground. And I think that’s very, very important for success in these matches.”
Kvitova’s victory, which took only 85 minutes, was reminiscent of Sharapova’s at Wimbledon in 2004, when the Russian teen, just 17, dethroned two-time and defending champion Serena Williams, 6-1, 6-4.
Kvitova wasn’t as emotive as the Sharapova of 2004 upon blasting the ace (her first) that clinched the match. She fell to her knees briefly then popped back up to gaze with a blush and broad smile at her guest box, where her parents, brothers, coach and friends was a mass of hugs.
Her father, Jiri, a former schoolteacher who taught her the game, burst into tears and was still crying an hour later.
Kvitova simply smiled through the trophy presentation and photo sessions that followed. It was only afterward, when she accepted congratulations from her childhood hero, nine-time Wimbledon winner Martina Navratilova, and fellow Czech Jana Novotna, Wimbledon’s 1998 victor, that she wept.
“They were so happy,” Kvitova said. “I cried after I met them.”
Center Court’s Royal Box at Center Court glittered with past Wimbledon champions Billie Jean King, Maria Bueno, Virginia Wade, Martina Hingis, Lindsay Davenport, Amelie Mauresmo and Ann Jones. Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was also on hand.
Asked about Kvitova’s potential, Mauresmo gushed with enthusiasm.
“I think her potential is already now!” Mauresmo said. “The way she handled today’s match, the way she handle the pressure, the way she played, the way she returned [serve] — Maria had no time to adjust because Petra was really giving her a lot of trouble.”
Sharapova was gracious in defeat, congratulating Kvitova on the victory and acknowledging that the Czech had played more aggressively and hit harder than she — a rare achievement given Sharapova’s power-based game.
The two players traded service breaks to start. But Sharapova double-faulted on back-to-back points to get broken a second time in the opening set. Kvitova served it out with a love game, becoming the first woman to win a set from Sharapova in the tournament.
Kvitova broke Sharapova to open the second set, as well.
The Russian broke back on a defensive lob that clipped the baseline. And everyone in her box shot to their feet, with her fiance, New Jersey Nets guard Sasha Vujacic, shouting, “Let’s go!”
Kvitova played her first poor game serving at 3-2. She over-hit a sitter forehand to give Sharapova a break point, and the Russian crushed a service return winner to level the score.
But Sharapova failed to capitalize. And Kvitova proved she wasn’t so easily rattled, breaking the Russian again and serving out the match on another love game.
Afterward, Kvitova drew a blank when asked how she planned to celebrate her first Grand Slam title.
She had no reply when asked what she planned to buy with her prize money. And she had no idea how her hometown in the Czech Republic would react to such an important victory.
But Kvitova has plenty to say when asked what she wanted to improve on.
“It’s everything,” she said, smiling. “Learning fitness. My serve. We have a lot of work.”
Wimbledon notes: Americans Bob and Mike Bryan won the men’s doubles championship Saturday, defeating Robert Lindstedt (Sweden) and Horia Tecau (Romania) 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).
It was the Bryans’ 11th Grand Slam title and their second Wimbledon title.
In the women’s doubles final, Kveta Peschke (Czech Republic) and Katarina Srebotnik (Slovenia) defeated Sabine Lisicki (Germany) and Samantha Stosur (Australia) 6-3, 6-1.