Petra Kvitova from the Czech Republic yesterday became the first left-hander to reach the women's singles final since that other Czech Martina Navratilova, who was among those on Centre Court applauding her achievement, 17 years ago.
The 21-year-old eighth seed beat the Belarusian Victoria Azarenka 6-1, 3-6, 6-2 and must now plot how to go one better than the great Navratilova, whose last Grand Slam singles final it was, went in losing in three sets to Conchita Martinez in 1994.
In reaching tomorrow's showpiece, Kvitova also goes one better than she did 12 months ago, when, unseeded, she lost in the semi-final to the eventual champion Serena Williams. She had never won a grass-court match before Wimbledon last year; now, she must surely deem it her favourite surface. She certainly mastered the grass, not to mention her opponent, in the first set yesterday. Rarely straying from the baseline, let alone serve-volleying like her idol Martina, she blasted the fourth seed Azarenka into virtual submission, with a barrage of powerful groundstrokes and six aces.
But as so mystifyingly often in tennis, the second set saw an almost complete reversal of form and fortune. Kvitova, previously so dominant, seemed to become assailed by anxiety, while Azarenka, the highest-seeded player left in the draw but playing in her first Grand Slam semi-final, settled into her stride, the long quavering wail that accompanies every shot sounding less and less like a lament. Kvitova, contrastingly, plays tennis noiselessly, with the notable exception of a loud, sudden squawk, as if somebody has inadvertently stepped on a chicken. But it is a squawk of pleasure, not pain, and in the second set there was little evidence of it.
In the deciding set, however, Kvitova reclaimed the initiative, although, having broken her opponent's opening service game, she then faced two break-back points at 3-1. It was the pivotal moment of the match, and once she had saved both points with some thunderous hitting, including a fiercely deep second serve, the outcome seemed assured. And so it proved; desperately though she tried, Azarenka was never able to claw her way back against a player ranked 62 in the world a year ago, but now firmly in the top 10 and rising.
Afterwards, the Belarusian, also 21, pointed out that, since March, everyone who has beaten her has gone on to win the tournament. With Maria Sharapova to face tomorrow, Kvitova might find that comforting. On the other hand, a curious statistical quirk is that no eighth seed has ever won a Grand Slam women's singles title. If she does lift the Venus Rosewater dish, she will join an exclusive club of left-handed champions, alongside the 1969 winner Ann Jones, and Navratilova, who prevailed nine times, most recently three months after Kvitova was born.
Whatever transpires, the Czech, voted WTA Newcomer of the Year in 2010, has already realised a dream. "It's something unbelievable to be in the final," she said.