Kvitova in the zone: Brilliance at Wimbledon from a transcendent talent

5 Jul

Kvitova wins Wimbledon

In sports, players long to get in “the zone.” But, what constitutes “the zone” is hard to describe. For onlookers, it’s sort of like that old Supreme Court ruling on pornography: You know it when you see it. The zone in sports is metaphysical, that space where an athlete can do no wrong; where anything they dream, they do; and in which they don’t need to think, but simply execute.


The zone is MJ lighting it up for six three-pointers in the first half of game one against the blazers in ’92; Tiger cruising to a 12-stroke win at the Masters in ’97; or Samuel Taylor Coleridge writing Kubla Khan in an opium-induced haze, before that pesky dictionary salesman banged on the door and foiled his masterpiece. It’s Kendrick on a freestyle, Jimi on a solo, or Billie doing Strange Fruit.


The zone is that place all great performers want to go, whether in sport, literature, music, or anything in which one strives to hit peak performance. We all search for it, long for it, to stop thinking and just see the best we have to offer ooze effortlessly from our every action. The zone is the realm where tens of thousands of hours of practice and competition suddenly, finally manifest into perfection.


Today, Petra Kvitova was in the zone. In the most thorough dismantling I’ve ever seen in a Wimbledon final, Kvitova fired on all cylinders, beating Genie Bouchard of Canada 6-3, 6-0 in a match-up that one could charitably call one-sided but more accurately describe as an unbridled massacre.


Everything worked for the 6’0″ Czech. Her lefty serve, the game’s best, was clicking, characterized by a lethal mix of rapidly spinning slices out wide on the ad side, and hard, flat bombs up the tee that kicked up chalk as Bouchard looked on helplessly. Kvitova swung freely and confidently off both the forehand and backhand wings, sending shots deep, flat, and, often, unplayable into each corner of the backcourt.


Kvitova, who blasted her way to the Wimbledon title in 2011 but has since struggled to live up to her billing as one of the game’s premier players, could do no wrong  — another important element of entering “the zone.” Centre Court at the all England club was her stage, and she put on the performance of a lifetime. The lefty drove on one, three-pronged gear: forward, harder, faster.


In the second set, it seemed as though Kvitova was racing to get off the court, so she could collect her trophy, do the press conferences, and make a 6pm reservation somewhere in central London. As the match wore on, and her lead stretched, the Czech maestra seemed possessed by a single thought: Don’t think. Just do. And she did, repeatedly, exactly what she wanted.


On the other side of the net, Genie Bouchard looked shell-shocked. Coming into today’s final, Bouchard proclaimed she’d have a game plan to slay her taller, harder-hitting opponent. Whether or not that proved true, it’s sort of hard to institute a strategy when you can scarcely get your racquet on the ball.


Sure, Bouchard played less well than in her straight-set semifinal victory over Romanian world number three Simona Halep. Her first serve percentage dipped early, allowing Kvitova to step well into the court to feast on the Canadian’s weaker, second offering. The pressure Kvitova applied on her return raised the stakes for Bouchard to make more first serves, but that added pressure only seemed to induce more misses.


Bouchard also had a bit less crispness on her groundstrokes than she did against Halep. And Kvitova’s brilliant mix of speed and spin on her own serve kept Genie off balance, which prevented her from stepping in to hit aggressive returns, typically one of the strongest parts of the Canadian’s game.


Despite Bouchard’s less-than-stellar play, this was absolutely, positively, 100 percent the Petra Kvitova show. The lefty knew what she wanted to do — play the match of her life, with no mistakes, while hitting as hard and accurately as possible — and she executed flawlessly. Once her game started to flow, Kvitova’s perfection became unthinking. She transcended the realm of conscious tactical execution, and entered a sub-conscious state of sublime shot-making.


No thoughts. Just action. The zone.


In sports – or, at least, in tennis – when your only mental impulse is antithetical to deep thinking, and you’re winning, you’re in a very, very good position. For prodigies, inhibition is enemy number one.


If you’ve got the tools to beat anyone, as Kvitova unquestionably does, you don’t want to agonize over what shot to hit, what pattern to work, or which of your opponent’s tendencies to exploit. You just want to unleash your talent, to see it flow seamlessly, effortlessly into and thru every ball you strike. When you’re in the zone, you know the ball will go in more than enough times to carry you to victory.


And that’s exactly what happened for Kvitova today. We may not see another performance like that for a long time.


That said, as a Federer fan, I hope we see similar metaphysical artistry from the Swiss tomorrow!


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