Monday, April 7, 2014
When it was all over and the final shot had sailed just long of the baseline, it was time to dance.
Andrea Petkovic had earned her championship jig. Nearly two years of hardship had pushed her career to the brink, but Sunday was her sweet redemption.
Petkovic defeated Jana Cepelova, 7-5, 6-2, in the Family Circle Cup finals on Daniel Island to win her first WTA tournament victory in three years.
It’s the biggest tournament win of the 26-year-old’s career and, after an arduous rise back to relevance, it’s admittedly her most satisfying.
“I’m much more grateful and I can appreciate it much more than before,” Petkovic said. “I know what I went through in the past years and I know what I worked for and it’s very rewarding now.”
Two years ago, a string of injuries began to tarnish a promising career. Petkovic fell from No. 9 in the world to No. 192 in 12 months. Lengthy rehabilitation and poor showings during her return attempts made her question her future in tennis. But Sunday was validation. Cepelova charged through the opening rounds with wins over three top-10 seeds on way to the finals. She rediscovered elite success in Charleston and hoisting the crystal Family Circle trophy was the payoff for her persistence.
“I had a lot of those moments where I wanted to stop playing,” Petkovic said. “I didn’t believe it at all at certain moments, but I kept wanting it. That’s why I kept working and it paid off in the end.”
Petkovic was locked in from the start Sunday, breaking serve twice and opening a quick 3-0 lead. Cepelova responded with the resilience she showed all week and fired back with three straight games. Cepelova thrived with her drop shots and worked herself into a 5-4 lead.
“She’s such an amazing mover,” Petkovic said. “When I was facing set point, I told myself, ‘You’ve got to get loose.’ I relaxed and started hitting the ball harder, deeper, moving better, serving better.”
Petkovic roared back with three straight games to take the set. She went on to win the first five games of the second set to grab firm control of the match. Cepelova committed 27 unforced errors against just 16 from Petkovic. As the match wore on and fatigue set in, Cepelova was undone by Petkovic who was playing at the top of her game, dropping shots down the line and working the entire court.
“My start wasn’t good, but I tried to keep my game,” Cepelova said. “I tried to fight, but she’s a great player. She was better today.”
Cepelova put together her own magical run through the week, sparked by a win in straight sets over world No. 1 Serena Williams in Tuesday’s second round. By herself, with no coach, physio, trainer or family, she went on to defeat Elena Vesnina and Daniela Hantuchova, both ranked in the top 35, and advanced to her first final. Her coming-out party earned her the largest paycheck of her career and will soon give her the highest ranking, likely in the top 50.
But Sunday went to Petkovic. She danced in celebration at center court as the 2014 Family Circle Cup champion and left behind the struggles of the past two years. A week in Charleston had served her well and revitalized her love for the game.
“I just needed to remind myself why I started playing tennis in the beginning,” Petkovic said. “I just needed to remind myself and it came together this week and I’m very thrilled about that.”