It was the best story of the day: the biggest upset so far caused by the woman with the best name in tennis. Luksika Kumkhum was fearless as she marmalised Petra Kvitova, the former Wimbledon champion and the No.6 seed, 6-2 1-6 6-4.
It took a smidgeon over two hours to secure the win, during which time Kumkhum made 5000 new friends as everyone who packed into Margaret Court Arena fell for the charms and skills of Thailand’s top player. Calm and controlled as she goes about her work, Miss Kumkhum, in Monday’s form, is a quietly ferocious foe.
Kumkhum loves it here in Melbourne, and playing at the Open last year is one of her best memories. Twelve months ago she came through the qualifying competition and went on to beat Sofia Arvidsson in the first round. It may not be the most famous win in the history of the WTA Tour, but it was Kumkhum’s first victory on the main tour and she will never forget it.
As the months have whistled by, Kumkhum has made her way up the rankings and is now sitting pretty at No.88 in the world pecking order. These days, she gets her place in the main draw by right, and her days of scrabbling around the lower rungs of the professional ladder seem long gone. Even so, no one would have given her much of a chance of threatening a former Wimbledon champion. Push Petra? Nah. Surely not. But push she did, shoving the world No.6 towards the exit and the first flight home.
Kvitova, meanwhile, had every right to fancy her chances. She had rattled through the Hopman Cup without losing a match and then made her way to the semi-finals in Sydney (no one likes to peak too soon before a major tournament, so losing there was not the end of the world). Looking leaner and fitter than ever, she was moving well and hitting cleanly. And then she ran into Thailand’s finest.
According to those in the know, Kumkhum’s idols are, in no particular order, Tamarine Tanasugarn and Monica Seles. These two former players are not the most obvious pairing but, then again, Tanasugarn led the way for Thai women’s tennis for years, and Seles is everything Kumkhum wants to be: an aggressive baseliner who thrives on the hard courts. And so far, Kumkhum is making a pretty good fist of following in the Serb’s footsteps and, like her idol, plays double-fisted on both flanks. Coached by her mum and dad, she is neat and tidy around the court and gives the ball a hefty wallop, taking it as early as she dare.
This tactic earned her the early lead and with two breaks of serve in hand, she showed not a hint of a nerve as she served out the first set after just 32 minutes. This was not what Kvitova expected and, desperate to slow the Thai tigress down, she took herself off for a comfort break. A few minutes of nose powdering later, the Czech seemed to have cleared her head and sharpened her focus – the first game of the second set was hers with a minimum of fuss.
Within no time, the 2011 Wimbledon champion was 4-0 to the good and cruising in the second set. Since that remarkable fortnight in SW19, Kvitova’s fortunes have been mixed – she can the ball like a dream (and her forehand ought to come with a government health warning) but there are days when she can miss by a mile. All in all, it does not make for easy viewing, not if you happen to be a Kvitova fan.
Last year, the Czech made hard work of keeping her place in the world’s top 10 and of the 74 matches she played in 2013, 37 of them went the distance. Taking the scenic route to the next round has become something of a habit for Kvitova, so dropping a set to the Thai was not a major cause for concern. After 71 minutes, she had levelled the score and it seemed to be business as usual for the favourite, but that was not accounting for the dogged and determined underdog. Kumkhum was not going anywhere.
She hung on like a limpet in the deciding set, and with the crowd cheering her on, she made her move, took a 5-3 lead and served for the match. Enough is enough, thought Kvitova, and broke straight back. But without a hint of tension or a flicker of nerves, Kumkhum stood firm. As the clock ticked past the two-hour mark, she moved towards two match points and as a final error flew from Kvitova’s racket – she racked up 40 of them in all – Luksika Kumkhum was into the second round.