Petra Kvitova shares harrowing bond with Monica Seles

LONDON — It was another in a string of unusually sunny and hot days in London this past Thursday when the women’s tour hosted a “WTA Tennis on the Thames” event that featured a day-long fan village on the banks of the Thames River and an evening cocktail party.

The pre-Wimbledon extravaganza offered two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova a chance first meeting with one of her heroes, former champion Monica Seles.

Not surprisingly, Seles served as a source of encouragement during a recent dark period in Kvitova’s life. The two share a bond no one would want to have experienced in their lives. They both were stabbed by knife-wielding assailants during their careers.

The eighth-seeded Kvitova’s incident took place in the Czech Republic in December 2016 when an intruder attacked her in her apartment. She successfully fought off the man — a suspect was arrested in the attack just last month — but the battle left her with viciously sliced fingers on her left hand that required extensive surgery.

The 28-year-old’s career hung in the balance, but determination got Kvitova back on the court by the 2017 French Open in May. Since her comeback she’s won six titles, including back-to-back victories at the Wimbledon tune-up tournament in Birmingham, England.

Seles was a 19-year-old and ranked No. 1 in the world in April 1993 when a fan of her rival, Steffi Graf, stabbed her in the shoulder during a changeover while playing a match in Hamburg, Germany. She would take over two years to return to the game, and would win the last of her nine Grand Slam trophies at the 1996 Australian Open.

“When (I was stabbed) I couldn’t really think about the tennis,” said Kvitova, who posted a picture of herself with Seles from the Thursday meeting on her social media accounts. “But when the time came I could play tennis again, of course, she was one of the inspirations that I had. We both had a very tough time to come back to play tennis. It was just great to meet her. … It was just great to see someone who came (from a) similar situation as me.”

Kvitova, the 2011 and ’14 Wimbledon champion, is being touted to potentially win a third Wimbledon title this year in what is considered a wide open women’s draw. Kvitova sees it differently, however, and insists, “I don’t really feel as a favorite of Wimbledon.”

There’s no denying Kvitova’s ability to physically and mentally recover so quickly from such a harrowing experience is impressive. But while she’s returned to winning tennis, Kvitova still bears some physical effects from the attack.

“It’s not 100 percent, will never be 100 percent,” Kvitova said. “I do have some limitation. I’m just trying not to think negatively, but still saying I’m happy I do have my fingers. I probably wish it’s a bit better. Overall, I’m very happy.”

Kvitova will open her campaign for a third title Tuesday against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, although there’s no guarantee she’ll be scheduled to play on her preferred court.

“If I have a favorite spot here (at Wimbledon) It’s the Centre Court probably,” she said. “You feel very special to be out there, that the people came to watch you. It’s just amazing to be in kind of a historic place as Centre Court is.”