When the 2011 season opened, Petra Kvitova didn't have a defined "goal" as such; you could say the level of her tennis that year would exceed her ambitions. Having finished 2010 outside the world's top 30, the Czech was motivated by a desire to improve her game. Little did she know how far those improvements would take her; after scoring her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon, she would go on to qualify for the WTA Finals for the first time, with her victory in Istanbul propelling to second in the rankings, behind only Caroline Wozniacki.
"It's just a dream," said Kvitova, the first Czech champion at the WTA Finals since Jana Novotna's 1997 triumph. "This is unbelievable - this is really a big step for me." Kvitova didn't drop a set during her round-robin victories over Vera Zvonareva, Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska, but encountered more resistance during the knock-out rounds, with a three-set victory over Sam Stosur in the semi-finals and then another three-setter in the final against Victoria Azarenka. "It was unbelievable tennis. We were both really fighting," said Kvitova. "Every game and every set was close. Maybe I played better in the important points in the match, but we both played some of our best tennis here in Istanbul - it was a final, so why not."
Graciously, Azarenka accepted that Kvitova was a deserving winner: "It's hard to lose, but I'm glad I lost to a champion who deserved to win. Petra was amazing. She really did a great job."
Mark Hodgkinson is the author of 'Game, Set and Match: Secret Weapons of the World's Top Tennis Players' (Bloomsbury, May 2015).