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Petra Kvitova's progress in recovery from stabbing attack can be seen at U.S. Open

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Tennis

NEW YORK--There are times Petra Kvitova becomes immersed in her old, familiar routines and she forgets that day last December when a knife-wielding attacker invaded her apartment in the Czech city of Prostejov and savagely slashed her left hand in several places as she fought to prevent him from cutting her throat.

The two-time Wimbledon champion, who has been ranked as high as No. 2 in the world, underwent a lengthy operation to repair the extensive damage to the tendons and nerves of her dominant hand. Her return to competition at the French Open in late May -- a month sooner than projected -- was a minor miracle and a major triumph even though she lost in the second round.

According to reports, the attacker has not been caught. In the meantime, Kvitova continues the process of healing. But the scars remain, and so do the memories. Each time she goes to hit a shot and remembers that the strength she once had in her left hand simply isn't there, each time her range of motion restricts her in some way, she is cruelly reminded that nothing is as it once was.

"Sometimes I do feel a little bit more normal than before, especially on the court and around players and people, around the tennis, which I'm very grateful that I can be part of it again," she said. "The life is still a little bit strange, but it's getting better, as well. Hopefully one day will be better."

Kvitova's third-round 6-0, 6-4 victory over Caroline Garcia of France on Friday at the U.S. Open was a significant step in her road back toward better days.

Kvitova, who is ranked 14th in the world and seeded No. 13 in the year's final Grand Slam event, was precise and decisive in routing No. 18 Garcia at Arthur Ashe Stadium, hitting 22 winners and committing only 14 unforced errors. She had endured some rocky moments leading up to the Open, losing in the first round at New Haven and in the second round at Cincinnati and Toronto.

However, here, in her eighth tournament this year, Kvitova has not lost a set in beating Jelena Jankovic, Alize Cornet and Garcia. She had lost her previous two matches against Garcia after winning their first two meetings, but on Friday she never let Garcia get going. Kvitova said her performance might have topped her previous best, a victory at a pre-Wimbledon grass-court event at Birmingham, England.

"I'm really pleased with the game I showed today. I mean, the serve was pretty much working today, especially the shade on center court is a little bit tricky, so you have to work with that, as well, be in the sun or be in the shade," said Kvitova, who had six aces and won all eight of her service games. "But I think that I moved pretty well, as well. I knew that it would be tough match."

Her success so far can be considered unexpected for reasons beyond her physical recovery. Kvitova, who was ranked No. 11 in the world at the end of 2016, hasn't had outstanding results at the U.S. Open over the years. Her best showings in her previous eight appearances were a quarterfinal loss in 2015 and fourth-round exits in 2009, 2012 and 2016. She struggled in the heat and oppressive humidity that often descended on the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center during the Open, but the weather has been surprisingly cool during the first week.

"I think that I have been lucky with these conditions, with the weather this year so far," she said. "Playing the first matches it wasn't pretty humid or pretty hot. I do really feel that this whole thing just is lucky for me right now."

She was due for some good luck after what she has been through.

"It's tough to say if I'm surprised," she said. "I came here not with the great results on the hard court, but on the other hand, I feel that I'm playing good in the tennis matches or in the practices, whatever."

Her fourth-round opponent will be No. 3 seed and recent Wimbledon winner Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who rolled past Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-1, 6-1 on Friday and has lost nine games in the first three rounds. Kvitova holds a 2-1 career edge over Muguruza.

"I think she's an incredible player. It's going to be interesting," Muguruza said.

For Kvitova, it will be an opportunity to enjoy something close to her old "normal" life. Those moments are few, but welcome.

"She has a great game. She has a good confidence right now, as well. I think she's really going for the shots and playing her best, for sure," Kvitova said of Muguruza. "It's nice to play someone who won a Grand Slam this year. I'm really looking forward for the big stage and for that match."

(c)2017 Los Angeles Times

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