Petra Kvitova saved three championship points in the second set.
She then held serve from 0-40 down in the third set to avoid falling a double-break behind Naomi Osaka.
But she couldn’t produce a third escape act in the pulsating Australian Open women’s singles final on Saturday night, a decider to live long in the memory.
Kvitova played her part a dramatic final, jumping off the canvas when all looked lost before submitting to the Japanese starlet 7-6 (7-2), 5-7, 6-4.
Given what the Czech has been through off the court, it’s no surprise Kvitova would show such fighting qualities.
The victim of a home invasion two years ago, the two-time Wimbledon champion laid bare her struggle to regain form in the aftermath of her hand injuries.
“It’s crazy. I can’t believe I just played a final of a grand slam again,” she said on the presentation dais through tears.
“We didn’t know if I would be able to hold a racquet again.
“It was a great final. Well done Naomi … and congrats for being No. 1 as well.
“It’s a big honou\r to hold this beautiful trophy as well. It’s been a while since being in a final for me.”
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) January 26, 2019
Doctors gave her a 10 percent chance of again playing elite tennis after the violent home invasion which left her with a near-severed finger and nerve damage in her hand.
Czech media has since released disturbing images of Kvitova’s hand immediately after the attack, which can be seen by clicking the link in the following tweet (WARNING: GRAPHIC).
— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) August 23, 2017
Kvitova couldn’t even be alone in a change room when she returned to the main stage at the 2017 French Open.
While Osaka was a deserving winner, Kvitova let slip two big chances to claim the title herself.
The first set was played on her terms, but she botched the big points, losing all five of her break points before Osaka won the tiebreak.
Having claimed the second set, she took all the momentum into the decider — winning 23 of 27 points into Osaka’s first service game of the third set — but dropped her level once more.
On the stage, Kvitova looked genuinely delighted when she received her runners-up plate.
An hour later, the competitor in her resurfaced.
“It’s painful, for sure. I don’t know how long will take me to get over it,” she said.
“It’s hurting a lot today. I wanted to win and have the trophy but I think I already won two years ago. So for me, it’s amazing. I think I still don’t really realize that I played the final.”
Osaka was deferential to the soon-to-be world No. 2, who didn’t drop a set until the final and now looks to have returned as a serious contender for major titles.
“You have been through so much,” Osaka said.
“You are really amazing and I am really honored to have played you in the final of a grand slam.”