Vera Zvonareva could see the finish line as clearly as the baseline while Caroline Wozniacki's fast footsteps echoed throughout the arena. When Wozniacki held at love to close a third-set gap to 3-4, Zvonareva didn't panic. Stepping into the court, the Russian drove a series of bold blasts down the line, winning eight of the last nine points to complete a hard-fought, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory at the WTA Championships in Istanbul.
Zvonareva took more risk on pivotal points and was rewarded with her fifth win in nine meetings with the world No. 1, who secured the year-end top spot despite the defeat, as second-ranked Maria Sharapova withdrew from the event after her loss to Li Na earlier today.
Zvonareva lost to Wozniacki in the semifinals of the 2010 WTA Championships and came out firing with the aggression of someone determined to have the final word today.
"We always have tough matches; I played my game and was going for my shots and I came out with the win today," Zvonareva told Tennis Channel's Katrina Adams.
Attacking from a low crouch, Zvonareva pounded penetrating backhands into the corners in the first set. Driving the ball with more ambition and aggression, Zvonareva opened with successive breaks in buliding a 4-0 lead before Wozniacki finally held. The only brief spot of trouble came in the sixth game, when Zvonareva clanked consecutive double faults to fall into a 0-30 hole. But she then strung four points together to hold for 5-1. Two games later, Zvonareva ripped an inside-out forehand winner to serve out the 35-minute set at love. Pouncing on nearly every short ball she saw, Zvonareva hit 18 winners, compared to just three for Wozniacki.
While Zvonareva's level dipped a bit in the second set, the blond Dane relied on her consistency, quick court coverage and some stinging second serves to even the match. Facing break point in the fifth game, Wozniacki caught Zvonareva creeping inside the baseline in anticipation of a shallow second serve and jammed her with a jarring body serve to fend off the break point. She survived an eight-minute game to hold for 3-2. The pair then engaged in a rapid-fire net exchange in the seventh game, as Wozniacki worked through a deuce game to hold for 4-3. Later, serving to extend the set, Zvonareva staved off a pair of set points but double faulted to face a third, and this time Wozniacki converted to force the decider.
In the past, you might have expected the sometimes volatile Vera to pound her palm against her racquet face in frustation, but there were no such outbursts today. Regaining her focus and targeting Wozniacki's weaker forehand wing, Zvonareva drew the forehand error to break for a 1-0 lead.
Court positioning was a key for Zvonareva today: She stood closer to the baseline, attacked when she stretched Wozniacki wide, whipped her swing volley with vicious resolve and shrewdly used her sharp-angled backhand to create court space. It allowed her to unload on her backhand down the line in building a 4-1 final-set lead she never relinquished.
Wozniacki and Zvonareva finished No. 1 and No. 3 in the world last year and are now deadlocked with 1-1 records in the Red Group in the race to reach the tournament semifinals.