DOHA, Qatar - They were both already guaranteed a place in the semis of the Sony Ericsson Championships, but Jelena Jankovic and Vera Zvonareva still had plenty to play for on Friday evening. With a $100,000 bonus up for grabs for whoever topped the White Group standings - and both holding two wins so far this week - it was the Russian No.8 seed who ended the round robin on a high, winning 26 63 64.
World No.1 Jankovic made the better start in the match, breaking Zvonareva in the third game with the help of a couple of double faults. Although the Russian immediately retrieved the break, she struggled to find her rhythm as Jankovic broke twice more to race through the opener.
Both players made a testy start to the second set, with Zvonareva the first to hold after four consecutive breaks of serve. In the next game she broke Jankovic yet again, and held onto the advantage for the rest of the set to force a decider.
"I was playing very well in the first set, but then I completely let my opponent play her game," Jankovic said. "I didn't serve very well and I didn't return very well, and Vera can rally all day long without making many mistakes. If you get involved in her game, you're done, and that's what I did today. I let her come back into the match."
Indeed, in the third set, Jankovic again seemed on course for victory after building a 3-1 lead, but a fired up Zvonareva surged through the next four games for 5-3. Two games later she had a chance to serve for the match, which she did without incident. By the end of the contest the two players had won exactly the same number of points.
In winning the match and finishing first in the White Group, Zvonareva avoids a last-four clash with Venus Williams - that becomes the fate of Jankovic - and gains the bonus payment and extra ranking points; with a perfect 3-0 record from the round robin stage in the Maroon Group, Williams secured her spot on Thursday.
"It feels great, of course," said Zvonareva, who only secured her berth at Doha two weeks ago, but has undoubtedly been one of the form players of the week. "I worked hard to get into these Championships, and I'm really happy to be here and to play against the eight best players in the world. And it's great that I was able to come up with some good tennis."
Meantime, No.4 seed Ana Ivanovic finally fell victim to the virus that has plagued her all week, announcing her withdrawal from her last round robin match against Svetlana Kuznetsova. Kuznetsova, the sixth seed, instead plays first alternate Agnieszka of Poland, who is making her Tour Championships debut, later on Friday. Both Ivanovic and Kuznetsova have been winless this week.
Third seed Serena Williams, who was to play fifth seed Elena Dementieva for a place in Saturday's semifinals - both having a win and a loss so far - also withdrew from the event due to a pulled stomach muscle. Second alternate Nadia Petrova stepped up to play the match against Dementieva, who regardless of the result advances to the semis as the second-placed contender from the Maroon Group, to face Zvonareva.