Terrific Win Inspires Gasparyan In St. Petersburg

Margarita Gasparyan (photo: @Formula_TX/Twitter)


In the six-year history of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, which is taking place in one of the world’s greatest cultural cities, it’s hard to believe that a Russian has never won the title. This year, as seven of the eight players who reached the quarterfinals of this WTA 500 event hail from Russia, it’s a pretty good bet that will soon change.

For one, unheralded but proud wild card Margarita Gasparyan put together an aggressive and intelligent game plan to knock out the top seed and Russian No. 1 Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-2, 7-5, in one hour and 20 minutes inside Sibur Arena Friday afternoon to keep her hopes alive and well and move into the semifinal round on Saturday.

“Of course, it’s a big victory for me today,” the 126th-ranked Gasparyan told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference in English and Russian. “I’ve never had any victory like this. So, I’m really happy that I won and I want to improve my game and play the best players.”

Gasparyan, a 26-year-old native of Moscow, won 71 percent of her first-serve points, hit seven winners with a minimum number of unforced errors (13) and converted six of her seven break-point opportunities. The six-foot-tall (1.83m), right-handed-hitting Gasparyan combined her first-strike on-court intelligence with the elegance of an effective one-fisted backhand – and it all translated into an impressive victory. The Russian No. 10 capitalized on a pair of service breaks in the opening set. Then, after being broken to begin the second set, she never trailed again. Gasparyan broke the 26-year-old Alexandrova four times in six service games and closed the deal on her second match point to win. It was the No. 34 Alexandrova’s fourth loss in her last five matches.

Gasparyan is one of the few women’s players who use a one-handed backhand and she displayed great confidence in using it. “I’m really confident with my backhand. I like to play one-handed,” she said. “I know just a few players like Carla Suárez Navarro and before her Justine Henin. Of course, there’s Roger Federer. It’s really great.”

All in all, it was a terrific win on a terrific day for Gasparyan, who came into the tournament with just two career titles, none since winning at Tashkent in 2018 when she was ranked 299th. Her victory over Alexandrova, which was her eighth in 12 matches this year, lifted her to No. 100 in the live rankings. In reaching the semifinal round, she’s also beaten No. 56 Kristina Mladenovic of France and No. 69 Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic, dropping just one set all week.

Next, Gasparyan will face the grand dame of Russian tennis, 36-year-old wild card Vera Zvonareva, who mastered 241st-ranked qualifier Anastasia Gasanova, 6-3, 6-1, in a generational clash. It took five match points for the professor Zvonareva to beat tour rookie Gasanova. Just 21, Gasanova represents a bright future for Russian tennis and she enjoyed a great run this week, winning four matches. However, on this day, it was Zvonareva who relied upon her knowledge and skill sets to close out the one-hour and 25-minute match and advance. In doing so, the former World No. 2 rolled back the years and reminded everyone she’s still got game.

“I’m definitely happy [with] the way I played today, especially in the beginning [because] it was a bit difficult and I didn’t know her game,” Zvonareva said. “I didn’t know her really well so I had to adapt and then I found the way to play. Then, it was a bit better from there on.”

Zvonareva was asked her thoughts about facing the in-form Gasparyan. She said: “It’s amazing, we played first round qualies here last year and now were here facing each other in the semifinals. She’s a great player and it will definitely be a tough match. She’s hitting the ball very hard and her backhand is great, a one-handed backhand which is very unusual for the women’s game. I will try and enjoy the challenge.”

When Gasparyan was asked by Tennis TourTalk what it would mean to win the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, a tournament  in her home country – especially one that’s been dominated all week by her Russian players, including herself – she said: “It would mean winning a very big tournament and trophy if I would win. Of course, I like to play here in St. Petersburg. This is one of my favorite tournaments of the whole year. I’m just enjoying being on the court. People here are amazing. They are always supportive. It’s very nice.”

Around the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy

• Fourth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova’s 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-3 victory over 160th-ranked qualifier Jaqueline Cristian of Romania assured there will be a Russian champion crowned on Sunday. The 35-year-old Kuznetsova, born in St. Petersburg, was sharp in her performance Friday against the last non-Russian competitor left in the draw. Kuznetsova, ranked 39th, hit five aces, won 82 percent of her first serves, saved four of the six break points she faced and converted five of eight break points while garnering 26 winners. She outpointed Cristian 98-81, putting away the quarterfinal tussle on her first match-point opportunity with a demonstrative forehand winner.

“It’s definitely very nice and special to play in St. Petersburg, but I’ve put all those thoughts away,” said Kuznetsova, a 20-year tour veteran who has reached her 74th WTA semifinal and first in St. Petersburg. “I’m just focusing on the match. It’s a regular match on the same court with the same lines and the same balls. I’m just focusing on doing my best. It’s not easy some times, but I am trying.

“I told myself to hang in there and play every ball and just play my game and I would take advantage of my game.”

• Next, Kuznetsova will face fellow Russian and No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina. The 61st-ranked Kasatkina rallied for a 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 victory over  No. 2 seed Veronika Kudermetova in one hour and 44 minutes. The win advanced the 23-year-old from Togliatty, Russia, to her third St. Petersburg semifinal. Kasatkina broke Kudermetova in each of her first two service games in the second and third sets and won 12 of the final 15 games of the match. She overcame 20 unforced errors by hitting 14 winners and saving 13 of 15 break points she faced from the World No. 36.

Tennis TourTalk queried Kasatkina during her virtual conversation with English and Russian press how to explain her turnaround in the second and third sets against Kudermetova. She said: “I started to make rallies longer and to put the ball inside the court. I was trying to put [Veronika] in a situation where she felt most uncomfortable and me most comfortable (smiling). I think that was the key today.”

Now, with 13 wins in her first 17 outings – and into her second semifinal of 2021– Kasatkina was asked what she’s learned about herself, especially now that she’s healthy and winning. She said: “I’m learning everything about myself. Something new every day, every tournament. Also, my team is helping me to develop myself better by talking a lot – tennis wise, life, everything. It is helping me to understand myself. They’re helping me to grow up everyday.”