SINGAPORE - It might have been her nails that were being manicured, but Petra Kvitova was the real artist in painting a picture of niceness.
The tennis world No. 4 arrived for the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global just the day before, but fatigue barely showed as she made an appearance at the Nike store at Shaw House yesterday.
Keeping very still as the Singapore flag was meticulously brushed onto her nails, the 24-year-old Czech was equally patient in fielding questions from local students.
It was not hard to see why people have been telling Kvitova's father that she was too nice to play tennis, ever since she was a child in Bilovec, a small town in the east of the Czech Republic.
Nice, yes, but she has proved that she is still tough enough to be one of the best in the game.
She told The Straits Times yesterday: "I'm totally changed when I'm on the court. I'm not angry, but when I'm standing on the court... I just want to win."
And win she did, lifting the hallowed Wimbledon trophy twice (2011, 2014) and claiming the WTA season-ender in 2011.
Victory at Wimbledon this year was especially personal, said Kvitova, admitting she had at times wondered if she would be a one-slam wonder.
"Sometimes I don't really play great tennis, so I was a little bit down mentally... it's something everyone has, ups and downs in their careers," she said.
As the only Major winner on both the men's and women's Tour to be born in the 1990s, Kvitova has had to learn many tough lessons early and quickly.
She said: "(Winning) is not only (about) the nice parts, of course. Suddenly you have a lot of 'friends' and it's tough to recognise who is your real friend and who's not."
She realised, too, that everyone wants a piece of her and a bit of her time.
Being the nice person she is, she often found it hard to say no.
"From the beginning, it was really difficult," she said, noting that the commitments she had frequently ate into practice time.
"You really have to find a balance for what you're doing.
"The experiences I have these three years - ups and downs, negative and positive things in my life, I know how it is... how many friends you have when you're winning and how many you have when you're losing."
But she knows she has at least a lifelong friend in a worthy adversary on court, evident in the teary tribute she delivered at Li Na's retirement ceremony in Beijing last month. Their friendship stems from their similarities, said Kvitova, even though she is eight years younger than the Chinese ace.
"(At) almost every tournament, my first practice would be with Li Na. She has the same sense of humour as me, so (although) we've only known each other for a few years, it feels like more than that.
"She also wants to live an ordinary life after her career, she wants kids, and we have the same thinking.
"She is also a very nice person."
This article was first published on October18, 2014.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.