We’ve been remarking all week about how the crowds in Istanbul have stuck around through long evenings of tennis until the bitter, post-11:00 P.M. end, and a lot of them were there again tonight. They got their reward, after two lopsided matches, with a madcap nightcap between Agnieszka Radwanska and Vera Zvonareva.
The eventual, amazing 1-6, 6-2, 7-5 win for Radwanska didn’t begin that way. It began with Zvonareva, who had lost three straight times this year to her lower-ranked opponent, looking determined to put an end to that ugly, tough-to-explain streak. After their last match, in the Tokyo final, the Russian had sounded like she couldn’t quite believe that she could keep losing to her less-powerful opponent. Zvonareva started today as if she meant to end the nonsense before it could begin, cleaning lines for a 6-1 first set win.
It took only a few minutes early in the second set for us to get an idea of why the volatile Zvonareva has been so frustrated by the even-keel Radwanska. At 2-2, Vera tried an ill-advised forehand winner from well behind the baseline and began to berate herself. By the end of that game, everything had unraveled. She was running through the ball and sending routine shots well out into the doubles alleys. Still, down a break at 2-4, Zvonareva went up 40-15; it had appeared all along as if she was the better player on the day, and if she could just get her head straight she’d pull the set out. Instead, Zvonareva had another freakout, losing four points in a row and double faulting to go down a second break.
The third set brought more pain, much more pain, but it wasn’t all Vera’s fault—Radwanska played some surreal tennis to dig out perhaps the most unlikely win of her career.
It began with Zvonareva serving for the match at 5-3, 40-15. The Russian’s ship had been righted long ago; she was overpowering Radwanska again, especially with her forehand. Up two match points, though, Zvonareva started swinging just a little less loosely. A foot’s worth, to be exact—that’s how far wide she was with each of her putaway ground strokes on those two points. The same thing happened again on a third match point, one in which Radwanska looked to be completely out of the rally at least three times. A few minutes later, it was Radwanska who had the ad, and she didn’t miss. She put a backhand crosscourt pass dead on the line for 4-5.
You had a feeling Zvonareva was in trouble at that stage, but you probably had no idea how good Radwanska was going to be. On the second point at 4-5, she continued her uncanny, stretching, reaching, scrambling, double-backing, hacking, court-spanning defense until all Zvonareva could do was try an all-or-nothing drop shot that found the tape. When Radwanska held serve with another crosscourt pass that caught the tape and landed in, the crowd was on its feet. They were there again at the end of the following game, when she broke serve by tracking down a very good drop shot and dropping it herself—smack on Zvonareva’s baseline.
By then, Zvonareva, visor askew, a weird smile etched on her lips, was as good as gutted. In the last game, she sent a backhand hopelessly long and ended it with a whimper of a forehand into the net. Radwanska stood stunned as the crowd leapt one more time. Now they know, if they didn't before: This is women's tennis, anything can happen. Sometimes it pays to stick around.