Kvitova relishes return to action in all-Czech tournament

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Prague (AFP)

There will be no audience and no handshakes with rivals, but Czech players including two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova relishes the prospect of playing a tournament again.

Sports came to a halt in the Czech Republic in mid-March as the coronavirus began to spread while this year's French Open has been moved to September and Wimbledon cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We are here to reintroduce tennis not only to the Czech Republic, but also to the world," Kvitova told reporters Monday, on the eve of a rare all-Czech competition pitting eight men and eight women in separate draws.

As of Monday, the government has allowed events with up to 300 people, including sports, as the illness' spread started to slow down with over 300 deaths per 9,000 confirmed cases in the country.

"The hardest thing will be to find the rhythm, we haven't played a match for a very long time," said the top-seeded, 30-year-old Kvitova, who faces doubles specialist Barbora Krejcikova in her opening game on Tuesday.

"I hope nobody expects us to play fantastic tennis, because it may happen or it may not," added the world number twelve, wearing a face mask which, she said, had a good thing about it.

"I don't have to wear a make-up."

- 'Not the same thing' -

World number three Karolina Pliskova has pulled out of the women's hardcourt draw as she recovers from a back injury, while 18th-ranked Marketa Vondrousova is getting ready for the final exams at her secondary school.

The men's part will be played on clay.

"It won't be the same thing as a regular tournament," said Jiri Vesely, the 65th-ranked top seed, who won this year's ATP tournament in Pune, India.

"There are no points to play for, no plot, there will be no fans. But of course we are looking forward to the games and we'll try to play our best tennis," added Vesely, who spent the forced break with his 15-month-old daughter.

"You don't have much time for that during your regular season. It was simply great. And my shape? You'll see," he said.

There will be referees and even ball boys at the tournament, but they will not hand towels to the players.

The players will also not be allowed to shake hands at the end of the games.

"I sincerely think it's not ethical not to shake hands and just give a racquet bump, I think that's the most unpleasant thing I'm in for," said Kvitova.

Looking ahead, she added playing WTA tournaments without fans did not make much sense.

"I have my age and of course I would like to play another Grand Slam, but if it's like this, I'd rather cancel them," said Kvitova, who has returned to the sport after overcoming a career-threatening hand injury suffered when fighting a knife-wielding burglar.

"Playing a Grand Slam is the greatest thing there is and playing without fans who are our engine doesn't look nice to me and the Grand Slam doesn't deserve it."