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By all accounts, Petra Kvitova was supposed to challenge for Grand Slam titles, if not the No. 1 ranking. At least that's what we thought after she stormed out of the All England Club in 2011 with a title in tow. A few months later, Kvitova would end the year in as much of a groove as anyone in recent memory after she beat down the field at the WTA Championships without losing a match and then won Fed Cup. It looked as if she was the fresh face who was leading the charge to a new era of women's tennis.
But the spotlight became too unsettling for her. The shy, introverted Kvitova never felt comfortable when newfound fame came barreling at her before she was ready to embrace it.
|This was not the start Petra Kvitova wanted to her 2014 season.|
Nearly three years later, it appears the sixth-seeded Kvitova hasn't made any significant strides. On Monday, she was ushered out of the first round of the Australian Open with a 6-2, 1-6, 6-4 loss to No. 88-ranked Luksika Kumkhum. It was, for all intents and purposes, an ugly way to start a new season.
"Obviously my priority was to improve my movement on the court, [but] I didn't show that today actually," Kvitova told reporters after the match. "I had a great preseason. I work very hard. I had great matches on my back and I was just trying, and probably I put a lot of pressure on my back."
This marks only the second time Kvitova has suffered a first-round defeat at a major in the past two-plus years. Ironically, the last time came just months after winning Wimbledon, at the 2011 US Open.
Kvitova is the rare kind of player -- tall, lefty, powerful -- who has all the physical tools to win. She has a penetrating serve to challenge the likes of Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka. But all that promise devolved into somewhat of a puzzling existence. In 2013, Kvitova made it past the third round of a major but one time. She has just four titles since the start of 2012, an underwhelming total for someone of her talent.
"When I have a warm-up, [I felt] quite OK, was good," Kvitova said. "So probably before my match I was nervous. Every time my legs are not moving well, so that's the thing when I started to feel it.
"Normally after like set or something it's a little bit better. But it wasn't today. So I was lucky that I won second set probably."
She wasn't as lucky in the third.
An inauspicious start
Sara Errani is following in Kvitova's footsteps, and that's not necessarily a good thing. Errani, who had a tough first-round opponent, was handed a decisive 6-3, 6-2 loss by Julia Goerges in a match that lasted only 1 hour, 17 minutes.
But how much of a surprise was this? Not much, at least according to ESPN.com's field of experts. Of the 11 analysts and journalists, six selected her as their early exit. And why not? Her Slam losses since the start of 2013 look like this: Australian Open (Round 1); French Open (semis, but she always plays well on clay); Wimbledon (first round); US Open (second round).
Errani, the seventh seed in Australia, is a diminutive player whose clawing and scrapping bodes well on the cloying clay of Roland Garros. But she simply isn't strong enough in today's game that features bigger, stronger players who can pretty much have their way with the Italian.
Simply juxtaposing the stats in Errani's match tells you everything you need to know about her game. She hit only six winners, 33 fewer than Goerges, and won only 49 percent of the points off her first serves. That number won't cut it on any surface.
Guy who beat Federer beat the guy who beat Nadal
You might remember Roger Federer's stunning fourth-round loss in New York last year. You also might recall Rafael Nadal's second-round loss at the All England Club in 2012. Well the two victors, Tommy Robredo and Lukas Rosol, faced off Monday at the Aussie Open.
Robredo, the Federer defeater, won a thriller, 6-1, 6-7 (9), 3-6, 7-6 (5), 8-6 in 3 hours, 32 minutes. Robredo is now the 17th seed after coming back from injury. Less than a year ago he was ranked 102nd in the world and for all intents and purposes, his career looked to be pretty much over. But that's obviously not the case.
Another seed, the ultra-talented Jerzy Janowicz, also needed five sets to prevail.
Out with the old
Twenty-five years ago Kimiko Date-Krumm made her professional tennis debut. Nine years later, her 2014 opening-round Australian Open opponent was born.
That's right. Date-Krumm, who was the oldest player in either draw (by a decade!) at 43, was matched up against 16-year-old Belinda Bencic, a qualifier playing in her first major.
Bencic took care of her older foe 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 in a match that lasted nearly two hours.
Krumm later quipped that every time she steps on the court it's a "miracle," but vowed to play on.
"I'm still enjoying playing," Date-Krumm said after the match. "I'm still enjoying playing Grand Slams also. So, keep fighting."
Key to success
Many inquisitive observers will be keeping a keen eye on upstart Madison Keys this season. The 18-year-old American made some waves last season when she reached the third round of Wimbledon.
And just last week, the fledgling star made the semifinals of Sydney. There she took down last year's most improved player, Simone Halep, Ajla Tomljanovic and Bethanie Mattek-Sands before succumbing to Angelique Kerber in the final four.
At the Aussie Open, she played perhaps the most thrilling match on opening day with a 6-2, 6-7 (8), 9-7 win over Patricia Mayr-Achleitner. The encounter lasted 2 hours, 27 minutes with Keys blasting 11 aces.
Keys was one of five American women who won Monday. Venus Williams and Sachia Vickery were the only losers, and Vickery played fellow American Lauren Davis.
The American men went only 1-4 with Sam Querrey prevailing in four sets.