She’s one of the most dangerous players on the WTA Tour, but Petra Kvitova’s up-and-down year left her chances of qualifying for the WTA Championships in doubt for much of the 2013 season. Watching Kvitova is like being on a roller coaster from point to point, match to match, tournament to tournament, which makes her one of the most compelling players in the women’s game.
The big-hitting Czech broke through when she won Wimbledon in 2011. A shot-maker with all the inherent advantages of being a lefty (watch this video of all the winners she hit en route to her title in Dubai this year), Kvitova’s gasp-worthy forehand has earned her the nickname “Del Petra,” a reference to Juan Martin del Potro, her ATP counterpart in so many ways.
SI.com caught up with the 23-year-old after she finally secured her spot in the WTA’s season-ending tournament, which she won in 2011. After a strong Asian swing in which she won the Pan Pacific Open and made the semifinals of the China Open, Kvitova withdrew from the Generali Ladies Linz and the Kremlin Cup to heal a back injury and rest up for the tour’s season finale in Istanbul.
SI.com: What are your memories of playing in Istanbul?
Kvitova: The two years I [qualified for] the Championships were very different. The first one, in 2011, I was enjoying every moment on the court. I remember how I felt before my first match, and it was a really incredible feeling when I finished the tournament with the trophy. Last year was disappointing for me when I had to pull out of the Championships because of my sickness. I’m looking forward to this year. It’s the last time in Istanbul [the WTA Championships moves to Singapore in 2014], and I had a great experience over there.
SI.com: What’s your favorite thing about the event?
Kvitova: The crowd is amazing. It was really surprising [to me]. It was a full stadium all the time and [the fans] came and supported us.
SI.com: I have to ask you the question that everyone needs an answer to: Explain why you always have to play three-setters [Kvitova has played a WTA-leading 36 three-set matches this season, going 24-12]?
Kvitova: [Laughs] Explain? That’s gonna be hard. I’m so up and down, so when I play well I’m winning, and when I’m down my opponent takes her chance. But I’m always trying to fight. So probably I will not play the same level, high level the whole match, and so that creates a three-set match.
SI.com: You’ve also won a lot of them, though. You must be confident even if you lose the first set.
Kvitova: Yes, for sure. When I lost the first set to Li Na in the quarterfinals in Beijing, I was still positive. It was the same against [Jelena] Jankovic when I lost the second set [in the semifinals]. I think that it helps me to mentally fight because I won more of them.
SI.com: You got a later start in tennis than most professional players. When was the first time you realized you were good at tennis?
Kvitova: When I was 16 or 17. Until this time, I just practiced with my father. When I was 16, I moved to Prostejov, the biggest tennis center in the Czech Republic. Practicing that day was the No. 1 in the Czech Republic. I was like, “Oh, my God, I’m in a really good club so probably I can play good tennis.” So that’s when I knew I could be much higher.
SI.com: If you could replay one match in your career, which one would it be?
Kvitova: The semifinals of the 2012 Australian Open against Maria Sharapova, which I lost 6-2, 3-6, 6-4. [Kvitova had multiple break points late in the third set and couldn't convert and lost after a game in which she hit a double fault and three unforced errors.]
SI.com: When you’re at a tournament, who are the first players you call if you want to have dinner?
Kvitova: Lucie Hradecka or Stefanie Voegele.
SI.com: We see your coach, David Kotyza, quite a bit. He seems so relaxed when he comes down for coaching timeouts. What’s the funniest thing he’s said to you on a coaching visit?
Kvitova: He said something in Istanbul, I can’t remember specifically. He’s very serious most of the time, but sometimes when I need to relax he jokes a little bit.
SI.com: You guys travel so much — is there somewhere you’ve never been but would like to go?
Kvitova: I travel so much I don’t think I’m missing any place. I’m sick of the traveling. Maybe when I finish I’ll want to go to a new place or something but not now.
SI.com: What was the best vacation you ever took?
Kvitova: Last year I went to Maldives with my boyfriend at the time. I really liked it.
SI.com: What’s the last thing you Googled?
Kvitova: “How far is Vienna to Linz?”
SI.com: What’s the last song you listened to?
Kvitova: Long Way Down by Tom Odell.
SI.com: Describe your perfect day.
Kvitova: For sure it’s at home in Prostejov with my family and boyfriend. Just be home.