School was in session Saturday afternoon on Centre Court at Wimbledon, and Petra Kvitova was doing the teaching.
That wasn't how it was supposed to be.
This was to be a coming-out party for young Canadian star Eugenie Bouchard. At 20, her lessons seemed to be well-learned and the presumption was that this final test would be aced.
At least that seemed to be the conclusion of the media, especially the local media here, which couldn't seem to resist falling in love with a long blond ponytail and a privileged Canadian heritage that included Bouchard and her siblings being named for English royalty.
Most of the prominent space for photos here the last few days were filled by pretty shots of pretty Eugenie.
That wasn't her fault. She's a good player, one who had made the semifinals of the last two major tennis tournaments.
But Saturday, she wasn't able to live up to her press clippings. Again, not her fault. Kvitova played the match of a lifetime. She certainly didn't mean it this way — tennis players play tennis and tabloid newspapers sell titillation — but her response to all this couldn't have been more definitive. She didn't just win. She put an exclamation point on it.
Her 6-3, 6-0 victory was accomplished in 55 minutes, the fastest women's singles final in 31 years.
It was a dominating, smothering, no-prisoners-taken outcome. The tall left-hander from the Czech Republic out-did Bouchard in winners, a stunning 28-8, and in total points, 61-37.
That's a 15-1 baseball game, or 10-1 hockey result.
While Bouchard was getting her picture on all the front pages, Kvitova was busy scheming with her longtime coach, Davis Kotyza. The plan was to go for every shot, to keep Bouchard so back on her heels that she wouldn't know backhand from forehand or night from day.
It was attack, attack. And then attack some more. Most tennis matches are won by accumulating lots of well-placed singles. Kvitova never considered that. Every time she pulled the racket back, she went for the fences.
Seldom has a plan worked as well as this one.
"… I was trying to do every point for really 100%," Kvitova said.
And when that worked, she even surprised herself, especially on one hotly contested exchange in the first set in which Bouchard had her on the run and Kvitova finished the point with a near-impossible lunge backhand cross-court passing shot. That one left Bouchard and the packed Centre Court crowd in stunned disbelief.
"Some shots," she said, "I say, oh my God, this is good." About her incredible lunged backhand winner, she said, "O.K., that's not normal. ..."
Kvitova had already won a Wimbledon title. She beat no less than Maria Sharapova in the 2011 final. She also beat a vastly improved Venus Williams, a five-time champion here, in a 5-7, 7-6 (2), 7-5 third-round dogfight last week.
She is only four years older than Bouchard, but in this sport that made her a once-was, rather than a more marketable new-and-shiny.
But the buzz started to go in a different direction as early as the third game of the first set. Kvitova broke serve with a gigantic forehand winner, then held her own serve for 3-1 with that incredible backhand passing lunge.
Both the crowd on hand and the worldwide TV audience had to sense something then. Kvitova's flat, harshly angled groundstrokes were all going in. Her typically funky left-handed serving angles were all catching lines. She resembled a female Jimmy Connors, with shots clearing the net by inches and, in the process, leaving the opponent flat-footed and dead in the water.
Bouchard, who has worked her way up to No. 7 in the world (Kvitova is No. 4), suffered all the slings and arrows of a one-sided rout — she got bagled in the second set of a Wimbledon final in front of millions — and handled it with grace.
The end of the match just beat a rainfall, and so Kvitova and Bouchard were brought inside while the roof was closed for the awards ceremony.
"It was a little odd," Bouchard said. "I ended up in the engraver's room, watching them work. Wishing one day, dreaming, he'll write my name somewhere."
When she came back out, with all the attention correctly on Kvitova, she sat quietly while being occasionally consoled by one or another All-England Club stuffed shirt. Then, when it was time for her to take the microphone, she did herself proud.
She told the crowd, "I'm not sure I deserved all the love you gave me today, but I really appreciated it."
She told the media afterward, "I have to give full credit to my opponent. She played, you know, unbelievable. ..."
Match point was a backhand cross-court winner. Perfect.
In the three years since she won her first Wimbledon title, Kvitova had not been back to a Grand Slam tournament final. That made the line of questioning after each of her advances here predictable.
Her answer didn't vary much. She had struggled. She hadn't handled it well. The outside stuff that comes with being a Wimbledon champion got in the way of the inside stuff on the tennis court.
Saturday, she found the perfect antidote.
"I love to play in finals," she said. "I love to play on the big stadium. This is something really special. ... My stomach felt a little bit funny. It's just goose bumps."
Goose bumps also went the other way, to all those watching. It was a spectacular display of tennis by a player who, on this day, had been projected to be the wallflower in the back of the classroom.
Instead, we got Professor Petra Kvitova. Also, a youngster who still needed more study time.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times