Luck Be A Lady For Gasparyan And Kasatkina

Margarita Gasparyan (photo: @Formula_TX/Twitter)


Margarita Gasparyan learned from her semifinal victory at the WTA 500-series St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy Saturday afternoon against Vera Zvonareva that with hard work comes a little bit of luck, too.

During their two-hour match inside St. Petersburg’s lively and colorful Sibur Arena, ultimately was decided by an intense, 20-point second-set tie break, there were 11 breaks of serve between the two Russian competitors during the decider. However, the 26th-ranked Gasparyan came up big at the end – sprinkled with a little bit of luck, if you will – as she finished her semifinal triumph against the No. 145 Zvonareva with a flourish. The 26-year-old Moscow native hit a forehand winner – her 27th winner of the match – that capped a magnificently-fought 17-shot rally and advanced Gasparyan to the biggest final of her 10-year pro career.

In a battle amongst unseeded wild cards, Gasparyan defeated Zvonareva, 6-3, 7-6 (9), to move into Sunday afternoon’s final searching for her first WTA title since Tashkent in 2018 and third overall. She will face No. 8 seed Daria Kasatkina, who rallied for a 1-6, 6-0, 6-2 victory over No. 4 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in the day’s other semifinal.

“It was really tough [in] the second set, especially the tie break,” Gasparyan told Tennis TourTalk during her virtual press conference in English and Russian. “In the end, I was a little bit luckier. I was just trying to be more aggressive. Vera, she had some set points but, in the end, she did some mistakes. I was luckier.”

Gasparyan came into Saturday’s match with Zvonareva hoping to reach her first career final at a WTA 500 event or higher, while the 36-year-old Zvonareva was trying to achieve her first WTA final since 2011. Both were aiming to be the first wild card in the six-year history of the tournament to win the title.

Gasparyan broke Zvonareva’s serve four times during the 47-minute opening set and won it on her second try with a perfectly placed one-fisted backhand winner – her 10th winner of the set – that finished a 10-shot rally. Gasparyan pumped her right fist and shouted out in joy at her accomplishment.

Then, Gasparyan got an early break of Zvonareva’s serve and consolidated it with a lengthy nine-minute, 14-point hold that ended with her executing a Roger Federer-like backhand passing-shot winner to extend her lead to 3-0. However, Zvonareva rallied with a break of Gasparyan’s serve in the fifth game and consolidated it to level the set at 3-all. Later, Gasparyan stepped up and broke with a six-shot forehand winner to push ahead 5-3 with the match on her racquet, but Zvonareva wasn’t ready to throw in the towel. Instead, the professor broke back with her second break of the set to get back on serve, refusing to give into the younger pupil. Then, she held at 30 after Gasparyan hit a cross-court backhand wide for 5-all.

Soon, Gasparyan steadied herself and held for 6-5 thanks to a solid forehand winner. As both players reached their respective benches, Gasparyan hydrated herself with a couple of healthy gulps of water while Zvonareva blocked everything out by covering her head with a towel to collect her thoughts. It must have helped as she composed herself and held her serve to force a tie break.

During the tie break, Gasparyan erased four set points from Zvonareva, first at 6-4 and 6-5, and again at 7-6 and 9-8. Then, Zvonareva saved a match point at 8-7. However, once Gasparyan reached her second match-point opportunity at 10-9, the beneficiary of a double fault by Zvonareva, she made it count. Upon hitting the last of her 27 winners that ended their semifinal match, Gasparyan dropped her racquet and covered her face with her hands in shock and awe, perhaps fighting back a tear or two. Then, she looked up, cracked a smile and waved to the appreciative crowd inside Sibur Arena.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Gasparyan what it meant to her to reach the championship round of the biggest tournament of her career – and in her home country where she’ll meet another Russian, Kasatkina – she answered: “It’s special for me to be here [in St. Petersburg] and to be in the final in Russia, this great tournament. I’m happy to be in the final. I want to play well and let’s see how it goes tomorrow.”

Finally, Gasparyan was asked what she learned about herself after achieving one of the biggest victories of her career. She thought about the question for a moment as it was translated into Russian for the benefit of local reporters, then smiled and answered in English: “The positive thing [I learned] is I can fight until the end. I was really focused. I didn’t give up. This is one of the most important things to me.”

Meanwhile, the 61st-ranked Kasatkina proved it’s not how you start but how you finish a match. After holding serve only once in losing the first set, she made some adjustments and won 12 of the last 14 games against No. 39 Kuznetsova to reach her second final of 2021.

In their first career head-to-head meeting, Kuznetsova hoped to reach her 43rd career WTA final, while a win for Kasatkina would put her into her second WTA final of the year. For one set, it looked like Kuznetsova would make a quick afternoon’s work of her younger opponent, easily winning the first set thanks to three breaks of Kasatkina’s serve. However, Kasatkina adjusted her game and wore down the 35-year-old Kuznetsova as the match wore on. It was her third straight win coming back after dropping the first set following earlier three-set victories against Aliaksandra Sasnovich and No. 2 seed Veronika Kudermetova.

When Tennis TourTalk asked Kasatkina if there’s an explanation to her method of winning – losing the first set then escaping with a three-set victory – she exclaimed: “Good question! I cannot say for example that I’m playing much worse than in the first set. I just made some adjustments and put more balls inside the court and my opponent was getting tired because I was trying to play longer rallies. … It is what it is (smiling). I’m just happy at the end I was able to switch my game and to win the second and third sets.”

Kasatkina converted five of six break-point opportunities and was not broken after the first set. She finished with 17 winners to 15 unforced errors while Kuznetsova hit 18 winners but committed 23 unforced errors. Kasatkina outpointed Kuznetsova 76-57 to set up the first all-Russian final in the six-year history of the St. Petersburg event.

“Of course, it’s super cool to be able to compete in your country, especially to be lucky to play in the final,” Kasatkina told Tennis TourTalk. “It’s already my third final in my country. It’s great if we can play two Russians in the final. It’s great for tennis in our country. I hope everyone will enjoy tomorrow.”

A few moments with Vera Zvonareva

Tennis TourTalk interviewed Vera Zvonareva following her semifinal loss to Margarita Gasparyan. The 36-year-old grand dame of Russian tennis – and one of 10 Russians who dotted the singles draw in St. Petersburg – expressed herself in an upbeat and friendly demeanor.

Asked what she thought was the difference between winning and losing the 20-point tie break against Margarita Gasparyan, Zvonareva said: “I think, you know, when the score is so tight in this tie break you need a little more luck. It’s not much. I had to go for my shots; I went for my shots to the backhand down the line on the set point. It was the right shot to make. Obviously, I thought I could have done better, a little bit, both throughout the whole match and in the tie break. My game needed a little more confidence. Maybe, I had a little hesitation with my shots because I made too many unforced errors in the beginning. There were some doubts in my head. Of course, that didn’t help. You have to be very confident and go for your shots, no matter what. I didn’t do really well at the end.”

When queried what makes Margarita Gasparyan such a great competitor, Zvonareva responded: “Obviously, she’s an aggressive player. She’s quite tall and has a very good and powerful serve; she has power in her game. I think her one-handed backhand is great. She’s using her shots really well. She’s playing not only with power but also with precision. Sometimes she makes you run and play a defensive game.”

Finally, Tennis TourTalk asked Zvonareva about what positive qualities she takes with her from her semifinal run this week in St. Petersburg. She said: “I strongly believe I was not playing my best level this year. Despite that, I still made the semifinal. I was able to fight for every point and turn around some matches. Even today, I didn’t start well, but I was hanging in there. At the end, the level was much better. I’m sure I can raise my level much higher. That’s what I’m looking to work on. If I can produce a greater level, perhaps I can beat some great players.”

Looking ahead to Sunday