After the initial euphoria surrounding her return to competition life has not always been easy for Petra Kvitova. In June the two-times Wimbledon champion won her second comeback event following the horrific knife attack on her at the end of last year, but she arrived here at the US Open having failed to win two matches in a row in any of her previous five tournaments.
However, you would never have guessed that the 27-year-old Czech had been struggling for consistency as she opened proceedings in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday.
Having beaten Jelena Jankovic and Alize Cornet in straight sets in her first two matches, Kvitova cruised through her third-round meeting with France’s Caroline Garcia, winning 6-0, 6-4 in 73 minutes with a combination of bold serving and thunderous ground strokes.
This has never been Kvitova’s favourite Grand Slam tournament – she has one quarter-final appearance to show from her nine previous visits – but the conditions this week have been more to her liking than they can be at the year’s concluding Grand Slam event.
The world No 14 can struggle in the heat and humidity, but with the temperature just 18C on a bright and fresh morning she was in her element. Hitting the ball cleanly from the start, Kvitova dropped only six points on her serve in the opening set and converted all three of her break points.
Garcia, the world No 19, made a better start to the second set, but at 3-3 Kvitova made what proved to be the decisive break of serve. Garcia went 0-40 down when Kvitova smacked a forehand winner down the line, brought the score back to deuce, but then netted a forehand on the fifth break point of the game.
Serving at 3-5, Garcia saved two match points, firstly with a backhand winner and then with a big forehand down the line. In the following game, however, her netted backhand gave Kvitova her third match point, which she converted with her sixth ace.
Kvitova said afterwards that she had been most pleased with her serve and her movement. “I know that Caroline can be very tricky,” she said. “I lost to her the last time we met in the Fed Cup. I know how she can play aggressively, so I was really trying to stay low and run.”
The Czech will now play Garbine Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion, who beat Magdalena Rybarikova 6-1, 6-1. Muguruza, who had beaten Rybarikova in the semi-finals at the All England Club, said afterwards: "I take every match as a final. These first rounds are very tough."
Kvitova is clearly happy just to be here competing. In the immediate aftermath of the attack on her in her Czech Republic home last December there were fears that she might never play again. She suffered terrible injuries to her left hand after an intruder, who has never been caught, held a knife to her throat.
It was three months before Kvitova picked up a racket again, but she worked tirelessly on her rehabilitation and returned to competition at the French Open, where she won her opening match against Julia Boserup before losing in the second round to Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
At her next tournament, the Aegon Classic at Edgbaston, Kvitova defied all expectations by winning the title, with Kristina Mladenovic and Lucie Safarova among her victims. Playing at Wimbledon has always been Kvitova’s main goal and she made an emotional return to the All England Club, beating Johanna Larsson in her first match before losing to Madison Brengle.
That set a pattern for the north American hard-court season as Kvitova won her first matches in Stanford, Toronto and Cincinnati but lost second time out on each occasion.
In her last warm-up tournament before the US Open at New Haven Kvitova lost first time out to Shuai Zhang, winning only three games, but quickly found her form here.
Asked what it meant to be back playing in a venue like Arthur Ashe Stadium, Kvitova said: “It means a lot. I really appreciate it that I can play on big stages again here at the US Open and to be in the fourth round. After everything that I’ve been through these are very happy moments for me.”
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