Petra Kvitova remembers the moment she realised life would never be quite the same again. Walking towards the All England Club the morning after her first Wimbledon triumph in 2011, the Czech became aware that she had been recognised in the street.
“Someone stared at me,” she recalls. “I was like: Oh my God, I want to go home!”
If Kvitova’s initial struggles with handling fame were evident in her subsequent results three years ago – she went out in the first round of the US Open after suffering early defeats in her two build-up tournaments – her growing maturity has been clear in the wake of her second Wimbledon victory this summer.
Since beating Eugenie Bouchard with one of the best performances seen in a Wimbledon final for many a year, Kvitova has claimed titles at New Haven and Wuhan and reached the final in Beijing.
She will be one of the favourites to win next week’s season-ending finale at the Women’s Tennis Association Finals in Singapore, where the year’s top eight singles players and doubles teams will compete for $6.5m (£4.1m) in prize money.
Learning to live with her celebrity status has been a major part of Kvitova’s success. “At the beginning it was very difficult for me,” the 24-year-old Czech says. “I’m not someone who enjoys being recognised too much. I’ve always tried to be the same person I was before I won Wimbledon, but it has been very difficult. I’ve had to get used to it.
“Now I’m fine. I know that it’s happening. It’s been like that for three years now already, so I’m getting used to it. It’s true that more people recognise me today, but usually they’re fine. They leave me in peace.”
Peace is important to the world No 4, which can be seen in her results at Wimbledon and the US Open. The conditions at Flushing Meadows should suit Kvitova almost as much as those at the All England Club. Her big serve and crunching ground-strokes are at their most potent on fast surfaces and the hard courts in New York are particularly quick.
However, Kvitova has never gone beyond the fourth round in New York, whereas she has reached the quarter-finals or better for the last five years in a row at Wimbledon. She went out in the third round at Flushing Meadows this summer to Serbia’s Aleksandra Krunic, the world No 145.
While Kvitova loves the measured calm of Wimbledon, where she enjoys the chance to stay in a rented house rather than in the bustling hotels where she spends much of her year, she finds the hullabaloo of New York draining.
“I think the US Open just doesn’t suit my personality,” she says. “I’m more of a calm person. There, it’s noisy all day, cars are everywhere and it takes so long to get to the site. I know that those things shouldn’t matter when you’re playing, but I just find they drain your energy.”
Kvitova admits it had got to the point where she goes to the US Open with negative thoughts in her head. “It’s going to be tough to change it,” she says. “Maybe when I get a bit older things can change. Every year I go there and think: ‘Maybe this is a year when I can change things’.”
The Czech’s mindset at Wimbledon, where she has rented the same house for the last three years, is totally different. “I’m the sort of person who loves being at home,” she says. “Of course, travelling is part of our job, but it’s not the favourite part for me.
“I enjoy being in a house at Wimbledon. My stringer and my mental coach came with us this year. My stringer cooked for us so we didn’t have to go out anywhere. He’s a very good cook, so it felt like being at home. I don’t generally go out much during the tournament. I spend nearly all my time either at the house or on the site. If I have a day off I just go for a coffee in the village, something like that.”
On the morning of this year’s final Kvitova opened her bedroom curtains to find that David Kotyza, her coach, and Richard Sodek, her racket-stringer, had laid out kitchen roll on the garden lawn spelling out “pojd”, a Czech word meaning “come on”.
In a warm-up session that morning Kotyza sensed that his charge was about to produce something special. “He said later on that I didn’t miss a single shot in practice,” Kvitova says. “He was just hoping that I would keep hitting the ball just as well in the final. And from the first point of the final I felt good. Of course I had some nerves, but I felt I was in the zone.”
While her triumph in 2011 passed by in a whirl, Kvitova savoured this year’s experience. On the day of the Champions’ Dinner at the Royal Opera House she enjoyed choosing an outfit for the occasion – a floor-length black and white gown – and bought herself a pair of Tiffany earrings.
“I had a bit of a ‘girly day’, which was very nice,” she says. “Knowing more what to expect in the evening helped me to enjoy it more. It was a beautiful event. Everything Wimbledon does is very special. I think I enjoyed everything about this title more than 2011. It was very special, something I felt deeper in myself. The first one was a little bit surprising for everybody – including myself.”
The WTA Finals and next month’s Fed Cup final, which the Czechs are aiming to win for a third time in four years, are immediate targets, while in the longer term Kvitova has her eyes on the world No 1 ranking. With comparatively few points to defend before Wimbledon, that goal could be within her reach.
“Of course you have to be healthy and you need to be playing at a very high level in every tournament, in every match, so it’s very difficult,” she says. “But it’s something that I haven’t achieved and it’s a feeling I would like to experience.”