This is a guest post by sportswriter and author David Fearnhead, who is friends with Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, the player who made her mark this Wimbledon fortnight by ousting Alla Kudryavtseva and seed No.32 Elena Vesnina and then further shaking up the tournament by eliminated second seed Li Na. David will also speak about Wimbledon on BBC Radio on Tuesday, so make sure to tune in.
Barbora Zahlavova Strycova, the player whose name has caught out many a commentator. Most have opted for the simple, more pronounceable, Strixova, but whether you say Stry-cova, or Zah-la-vo-va-Stry-co-va – the fact that she is in the second week of Wimbledon is cause for celebration.
It’s been a good tournament for the Czechs. The nation of just 10 million people consistently produces quality players, especially in the women’s game. Four of them are through to round 16. Just quite what makes the Czechs so good should be being studied by other countries. Their strength in depth breeds competition. There are no certainties for a berth in their Fed Cup team. On tour the high percentage of Czechs in the draw means they often face each other, and no player wants to lose to a fellow countrywoman. That’s not to say there isn’t a great bond amongst the Czech team, anyone who’s viewed their training videos will see that fun is definitely part of the preparation.
Three-set Petra Kvitova is yet to deliver on the promise of her 2011 Wimbledon victory, but she can never be counted out. Lucie Safarova keeps getting better, but it is Strycova who made the most interesting arrival in R16. There was talk of Li Na’s lack of form leading up to Wimbledon, but for those watching the game one thing was clear – Strycova was not about to let the #2 seed find her groove. Barbora displayed the determination I’ve long known her to have, but this time it came with composure. She’s always had the game, but now she appears to have the belief. The few missed opportunities were shaken off as she stood firm on Court One to take the match point – twice.
For the tennis purist, Strycova’s victory was a victory for tennis. The game has changed. Players have gotten bigger, taller, and they hit harder. A battle of attrition was born. Big serves and heavy groundstrokes are order of the day as two Amazonians hammer blow each other off the court. Yet Strycova is different. I’ve long said that she’s got the most gifted hands on tour. Had she been born in an era of wooden rackets, before the emergence of the power game, her trophy cabinet might well contain a Wimbledon crown already. As it is, this is her first foray into R16 of a major. How far her game can take her we’ll soon find out. I remember her 2012 Wimbledon encounter with Serena Williams. Though the American prevailed, there were moments of the match when she was left shaking her head at some of the shots Strycova was able to conjure up. At times Baro is a magician.
Her skills have been honed from her success in doubles, 17 titles to date. But what few have commented on was that as a junior she was the best in the world. In 2002 and 2003 she took back-to-back Australian Open titles, and regularly took the scalps of all comers including that of a young Maria Sharapova. So perhaps we should not be too surprised to see her once more at the business end of a Grand Slam singles event.
On court her persona is feisty to say the least. She has a terrier mentality, not afraid to argue the point with an umpire or to fire off verbal volleys into the crowd. Yet, off court she’s one of the sweetest individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Beautiful (stunningly so, as the above image proves), bright, and bubbly, and still excited by the fact that she is playing at the tournament she dreamed of as a child.
As a journalist I’m supposed to be neutral. However, I must confess that I consider Barbora a friend, and as she progresses through the tournament I can’t help but allow the smile on my face to grow just that little bit wider. (first two photos by © Neal Trousdale)