Dubai: Petra Kvitova is one of the younger players competing in the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships this year.
The defending champion, who won the title for women’s singles in the city last year, is only 23 years old. That makes her the same age as her competitor Caroline Wozniacki, but nearly ten years younger than the world No1 Serena Williams.
It’s easy to gauge her age when you first meet her.
Kvitova arrived at Dubai Duty Free in Dubai International Airport’s Terminal 3 just after 2pm on Tuesday, to shoot the DDF Full of Surprises Travel Show that some of her counterparts had already taken part in, including Williams, Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic.
But unlike the others, who exuded confidence thanks to experience in front of the camera, Kvitova was surrounded by an air of hesitance. She dragged her feet as she approached the semicircle of 14 DDF employees who were there to greet her in their teal blazers, black slacks and, for the gentlemen, yellow ties, but broke into a genuine, toothy smile once she was handed a tote bag of goodies with a colourful camel printed on the front.
It was clear that she wasn’t exactly in her comfort zone, but the young star admitted she was still learning the ways of celebrity.
“I’m used to being on the court and I know that there are cameras,” she told tabloid! on a three-minute break between walking around fashion, accessory and perfume shops. She was all smiles when we spoke and it seemed like it was easier to bring out the tennis star’s candid side during a one-on-one interview.
“But off the court something like this, is for me, a little bit different and I’m nervous every time. I’m getting used to it but it’s not as natural as on the tennis court.”
But though she sometimes blinked away from the frequent camera flashes or fluttered her lashes in discomfort when the film camera lights first shone on her, she tried to be a good sport.
“How many of these lines are left?” she asked toward the end of her shoot, after getting her words jumbled.
She did several takes whenever her sentences needed perfecting or when the bilingual boarding announcements drowned out her voice, and even pretended to spray a few perfumes on her wrists so the photographers could get the perfect shot, adding a few sound effects for good measure.
One shopkeeper, showing her a pair of sunglasses, told her he’d watched all of her games the year before, and that seemed like familiar territory for Kvitova, who happily thanked him.
“Will it be the same this year?” she asked. He can’t make it to the matches in person this year, he told her, but he would still be supporting her nonetheless.
Dressed in a pair of jeans, white boots and a striped Henley blouse with her hair down, the star perused shops like Michael Kors — she seemed interested in a studded, light blue wallet — Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo.
“Of course, as a woman, I would like to look nice — I like shopping, definitely. I don’t have really special designers or something like that; I’m just picking up what I like,” she told me, adding that the airport is a good spot to shop when waiting for a flight. But that’s not the only thing layovers are handy for.
“I’m happy sometimes that I can be in the lounge, so I’m eating, for example, or being on the internet. But of course, sometimes it’s very boring if you have to wait five hours somewhere. So I have some book and I’m reading.”
And although her young age might mean she has a way to go in owning her famed athlete status off the court, she insists that it has its benefits when she’s on the job.
“I think that every age in tennis is something special. I mean, I have few experiences, but I think still, the older [players] have more, of course,” she said. “But I understand my body, it’s feeling good, so I can practise, I can work hard still at my age, I’m glad for what I’ve done already, and I will try to do my best again.”
And how was she feeling about defending her title in the city this year?
“I don’t feel extra pressure [as the defending champion], definitely… every match I play is tough, and I’ll try to repeat [last tournament’s win] this year.”