It is understandable that a tennis player might close out a match point and feel the classic "fear of winning," a little less common is that a person can suffer from the fear of the post-match press conference. Yet that's what happened until some time ago for Petra Kvitova, who certainly does not lack the fundamentals of tennis, while her knowledge of the English language is scarce.
Forced to sudden accelerations on the court, Kvitova in the pressroom has pulled the handbrake up a little time ago when it comes to speaking and listening to English. How can she understand it? Sometimes journalists speak so fast by asking questions that may even appear cryptic, to the point that the writer sometimes has difficulty in understanding even their Italian colleagues. Imagine her at school where she studied Czech and Slovak, then subsequently learned to speak a little Russian and Polish, but no English. Full stop.
After her victory at Wimbledon last year, Kvitova had to deal with a Rossini crescendo of interviews, many of which came by telephone, or of the proper and true linguistic junipers, however a common problem is that people who speak English have the bad habit of caring nothing about the difficulties of those who speak languages different from their own.
Petra is an intelligent woman who has worked hard on her linguistic capabilities, who by a virtue of necessity, has started to study the English language and has used every meeting with the press to train:
"Thanks to the good results of this year I have had a lot of interviews and this has helped me a lot with English, which is very important for tennis players. Being on the Tour is much easier if you speak English. That's why I figure I should further improve my English."
There is much truth in this statement because women's tennis is a global sport, with tournaments in 32 countries and players from 92 countries. A real Babylon language, stemmed from the choice of WTA is to use only English as the official language.
Being multilingual is a feature shared by many top players, who spend most of the year traveling from one tournament to another, giving interviews in the language of their host country. A case for all is Novak Djokovic who is fluent in seven languages and, if necessary, may be able to be understood even in Swahili by Bantu tribes.
Included in the mix of linguists is Petra Kvitova who has made good buzz to improve her English in order to communicate more easily with the media, sponsors and other players. She has little interest in grammar, by her own admission and she has decided to focus on vocabulary knowledge:
"It 's important to know a lot of words to talk about how you feel and how you played, the grammar is less important."
The choice is wise, because to talk enough using common words in a conversation is important for an intermediate level of knowledge. One need not be Pico della Mirandola, who said in a study that he calculated that in the Italian language you need only 1,000 words, whilst in English 500 are enough.
In light of this data, the way of English might seem easy to follow for Petra, but not at all so, because lurking inside there are terrible phrases which she has to deal with when she least expects it.
An example of this is during the Olympics when Kvitova was informed that she would not play because "it's raining cats and dogs." Astonished, she asked the clerk: "Amazing, how is it that it is raining down cats and dogs?" Obviously, it was disclosed to her that indeed it was not raining cats and dogs.
After this accident, Petra has intensified her studies including idioms that are quite funny: "I'm not very talented in speaking foreign languages, so I have to work so much more." When at home in the Czech Republic she takes one lesson a day. The fact is, though, she is rarely at home, and so traveling is exercised by reading and currently she is enjoying The Secret Garden.
An excellent opportunity for her to practice was during the American tournaments, "When we were in Montreal I had to speak in English with Katie for a week, because I had my coach there and it was something that helped me a lot."
Montreal is where Kvitova won her first title of the year, while "Katie" is Katie Spellman, head of her public relations, who she speaks or writes in English with every day. Her assistant says, "She has to improve grammar, in particular the use of permanent and temporary articles, as well as verb conjugations."
Like other non-English speakers, she has indeed problems with the article "the" that tend to sometimes be left out and do not require or omit when necessary. Sometimes, in the name Serena Williams, her name may be accompanied with the suffix, which in English reads: "the Serena."
Despite this, Kvitova improves visibly, indeed of hearing. Her first press conference at the 2010 Wimbledon transcribed contained 428 words, while her last participation had scored the record number of 1211 words contained. This, of course, depends not only from the fact that she has become more talkative, but also from her increased number of applications.
However, some problems still remain like the problem of phrase which sometimes clashes. The last case involved the assertion made about her by Victoria Azarenka who said: "it's not my cup of tea", which means "not my favorite "and has nothing to do with the drink of choice by Queen Elizabeth. The sentence had been reported by a journalist and Petra not understanding the meaning, simply smiled.
If nothing else, a successful Kvitova said: "Now I'm less nervous when I'm in the press room." Not by chance after losing the semi-final of Cincinnati, she came in the press room smiling and singing "Good night" in acceptable English. Incidentally, the Kvitova was awarded last year's WTA sportsmanship award.
An example of her improvements can be found in the video presented at the end of this article from the ceremony of the trophy in Montreal. The video begins with the announcer saying, "Please Ms. Kvitova say a few words."
In any case, the English classes will not transform Petra Kvitova into a talkative Jelena Jankovic, because she is a woman of few words, in English or any other language. She is perfectly aligned with what her supportive coach has always said:
"It is better to say the right words at the right time, which go on for an hour."
You could say that Petra Kvitova prefers to let her tennis speak when on the court, and it is hard not to notice what she says.