Zvonareva Shows She Still Knows How To Win

Vera Zvonareva (photo: @Formula_TX/Twitter)

ST. PETERSBURG/WASHINGTON, March 18, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Vera Zvonareva still knows what it takes to win. For her, sometimes, it’s mind over matter, but she’s willing to go the extra distance in order to beat a younger opponent with a better world ranking.

On Wednesday evening, the 36-year-old native of Moscow, Russia, married and mother of daughter Evelina, reached the quarterfinal round of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy at Sibur Arena in St. Petersburg, the Russian port city on the Baltic Sea.

Zvonareva’s 6-7 (6), 7-5, 7-6 (2) victory over third seed Fiona Ferro of France lasted three hours and 10 minutes. Both tie-break sets – the first and third – lasted more than an hour. Zvonareva capitalized on a couple of mini-breaks early and served out the victory with her fifth ace.

The quality of tennis displayed by the former World No. 2 was truly special. Zvonareva hit 38 winners to go with five aces and she broke Ferro’s serve four times in 11 tries. The Frenchwoman ended with 23 winners but committed 32 unforced errors. She converted just three of eight opportunities.

“It was definitely a tough match,” the 2010 Wimbledon and US Open finalist said. “I think we both are fighting for every point and hanging in there. I think I was able to play some good tennis when it mattered and I’m happy with the win. …

“It was nice to see some fans out there. I’m used to playing with nobody out there to watch us. It was great and support was on my side today.”

The No. 145 Zvonareva is into her first WTA-level quarterfinal since reaching the 2019 St. Petersburg semifinals. Her upset of the 43rd-ranked Ferro marks the first Top 50 victory for Zvonareva since beating Magda Linettte at last year’s Western & Southern Open in New York.

“I like to play indoors; I grew up playing indoors,” Zvonareva said during a post-match interview. “Here, I’m quite familiar with the tournament – I’ve played in it many times. The courts suit my game and I feel comfortable here.”

Also moving on into the quarterfinals were top seed Ekaterina Alexandrova and No. 4 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, both from Russia. Alexandrova needed just an hour and 13 minutes to beat No. 125 Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic, 6-3, 6-4, while Kuznetsova bested No. 159 Wang Xinyu of China, 6-1, 7-5, in one hour and 22 minutes, to reach her first quarterfinal-round appearance in 12 months.

Alexandrova benefited from six aces and 19 winners plus six breaks of her opponent’s serve. Meanwhile, Martincova hit just five winners to 13 unforced errors. She broke Alexandrova three times in three looks. Alexandrova outpointed her opponent 64-53.

“Yeah, it was quite late, so it wasn’t easy to wait the whole day for the match,” Alexandrova said. “I’m pleased with the quarterfinal but I’m not really pleased with my game because there were so many unforced errors that I made. I want to fix it for the next match so it will be better.

The No. 34 Alexandrova admitted during her press conference that seeds aren’t for her, even though she’s the top this week in Russia. “I feel slight pressure on myself because I don’t like playing as the first seed – or any type of seed. I’m preparing for a match even more when I’m seeded. For the whole tournament, I kind of feel like I have to prove something. I don’t like it, but it’s not for me to choose, and I just try to do my best.”

Wednesday’s first match of the day made tournament history for the longest match as the No. 128 Katarina Zavatska of Ukraine and No. 241 Anastasia Gasanova from Russia took three hours and four minutes to decide its outcome, only to be outdone in the very next match by Zvonareva and Ferro. Gasanova, a qualifier, prevailed 6-2, 6-7 (6), 7-5. She hit 39 winners and 39 unforced errors while Zavatska ended with 20 winners and 26 unforced errors.

The final match inside Sibur Arena ended with 160th-ranked Romanian qualifier Jaqueline Cristian upsetting No. 6 seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia, 6-3, 7-6 (9), winning on her fourth match-point opportunity, to reach her first WTA singles quarterfinal against Kuznetsova.

“I’m really happy with this win. It was a great fight and we both played great tennis. This is the best match I’ve had in the last few months,” said Cristian during an on-court interview. “I’m really happy I have people cheering for me.”

Catching up with Veronika Kudermetova

Tennis TourTalk caught up with No. 2 seed Veronika Kudermetova, ranked 36th, who plays her first match in the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy on Thursday evening against 150th-ranked Russian qualifier Kamilla Rakhimova.

“I think it’s [a] good opportunity that we play here with a lot of Russian players. I’m glad to play here as the second seed,” Kudermetova said during a pre-tournament press conference Monday, held in both Russian and English. “It means a lot for me. You know, I’ll try to play my best tennis and do everything to go forward through the draw.

“I think for me it doesn’t matter who I play. I’ll try to play my tennis. It doesn’t matter what they try to do. I’ll try to be more aggressive for my side.”

Having lost four of her last five matches, what does Kudermetova hope to accomplish this week? “I think it was after the lockdown in Australia, it was really tough to play on the top level. Yes, I lost to Halep, Muguruza and Bencic. I lost to really good players. I know if I want to beat them, I have to play my best. Here, I come with a positive mood. I will try to enjoy and do everything I can do [to be successful].”

The interview ended with one final question: Are you following the success of fellow Russians Daniil Medvedev and Andrey Rublev? “Of course, I follow both of them. They are really good and are heroes for boys and girls to follow in Russia. Daniil is No. 2 and Andrey is Top 10. They are really good players. I am really happy for both of them.”

Lorenzo Musetti: Mamma Mia! 🎾

Jannik Sinner: Last year was different

Following Jannik Sinner’s 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory over No. 4 seed Roberto Bautista Agut at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Wednesday, the 16th-seeded young Italian spoke about the difference between his break-out year in 2020 and has things have changed for him this year: “For me, the most important thing is that I’ve improved. Last year was different. Players got to know me a little bit because I had won the NextGen Finals [in 2019]. There were new tournaments for me and [I was] facing many great players.

“I feel a little bit better on court and more comfortable. What I’m doing now is trying to understand where I need to improve most; obviously I need to improve everything. I have a great team behind me and they know how to find a solution. For me, solving the problems I have on court and focusing day after day to improve is most important.”

Felix Auger-Aliassime: Wins battle of the 20-year-olds

Heather Watson: On the depth of WTA talent

Tennis TourTalk asked Great Britain’s affable Heather Watson, the British women’s No. 2 who competed this week in the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey, Mexico, about the depth of the talent and the fact that there have been 11 different winners on the WTA tour this year. “I feel like on the women’s side it’s very different than the men. The men have their usual winners most weeks. I find the women’s game really exciting because the depth of the game is so big and there are so many good players. Whoever is on in a given week can win,” she said.

Asked about the current depth of British women’s tennis, Watson opined: “I feel that British tennis – both men’s and women’s – there needs to be a lot more players and a lot more depth. I think we should be focusing on getting those players – not looking for the next Grand Slam champion but focusing on getting players into main draws of Grand Slams. Rather than find one superstar, let’s find a lot of good players. They will end up pushing each other and motivating each other – there’s more competition – and I just think you’re more likely to produce more than just a Grand Slam champion.”

Sara Sorribes Tormo: A week to remember

Tennis TourTalk caught up with Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo via Zoom in Monterrey, Mexico, and asked her whether she felt any pressure in her first match Tuesday evening at the Abierto GNP Seguros following her breakthrough first WTA title, which she captured last Saturday in Guadalajara, Mexico: “No, I didn’t feel any pressure. It was a totally different match in totally different conditions. I knew she was a really good player. I know it was going to be a difficult match. I just wanted to do as good as I could. It was very difficult for me to stay there the whole match, doing my job. I’m very happy with the victory.”

Sorribes Tormo defeated Lesia Tsurenko, 5-7, 6-2, 6-4 to move into the second round against Kaja Juvan of Slovenia. However, on Wednesday evening, Juvan withdrew due to illness, which meant Sorribes Tormo received a walkover into Friday’s quarterfinals. She will face Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, who advanced No. 100 Jasmine Paolini from Italy, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2.

How important was the victory to Sorribes Tormo? “If you win, you have the chance to play one more day. For me, the most important thing was to stay there the whole match, to keep fighting no matter what. I think I did that the best. I lost the first set. I just kept working, kept playing and doing what I had to do. Maybe it wasn’t my best match – I’m sure it wasn’t – but I’m very happy with the win and the way I managed. I played every single point and fought for every single point.”

Asked how she celebrated her title victory Saturday night, Sorribes Tormo replied: “Of course, I called my parents and my friends, my coaches. When I won, I called all of them. I was so happy. I was screaming and dancing. I was happy that Marie [Bouzkova] was with me. We went out to dinner together. Then, I had to leave for Monterrey the next day.”

Leylah Fernandez: Moving on in Monterrey

Canada’s 18-year-old Leylah Fernandez has looked impressive in back-to-back victories over Coco Vandeweghe of the United States and Kristina Kucova of Slovakia at the WTA 250 Abierto GNP Seguros this week in Monterrey, Mexico. She backed up her first-round 6-3, 6-2 win against Vandeweghe Monday with a 6-1, 6-4 triumph against the lucky loser Kucova on Wednesday. Both wins clocked at barely an hour. Now, the 87th-ranked Fernandez (5-4) is into her first quarterfinal of 2021 against Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, ranked 104th, on Friday.

Asked by Tennis TourTalk what she was most proud of from beating Wandeweghe Monday evening and why she thought she won: “I think I’m most proud of my overall game. I played a good solid match; I didn’t give away too many free points. I was more offense than she was tonight, especially on the serve. Coco is a very hard player to play against. I think the reason I won today was I was more solid than her. Unfortunately, she made more mistakes than I did. I stayed focused and concentrated on my own game and didn’t let my mind wonder.”

After her Wednesday win over Kucova, she explained to Tennis TourTalk the effectiveness of using the drop shot, which she used it willingly to keep her helpless opponent off balance. “Since I was very young, my dad taught me how to use the drop shot and it’s always been a very effective part of my game,” Fernandez explained. “Last match, I didn’t have many opportunities to use it. This match, I was able to use it and happy it went my way. From the very beginning, my dad told me to use it as an element of surprise, of pushing the player back and then bringing them forward, using the slices and drop shots, just like [Roger] Federer would do, like Justine Henin would do. I’m happy it worked for me today.”