It's a Venus vs. Vera Final
DOHA, Qatar - There's no question about it, Vera Zvonareva's game shines in Doha. Earlier this year she made her first Tier I final at the Qatar Total Open, and now at the very same venue she has one-upped that feat in a big way, beating countrywoman Elena Dementieva in a tight three-setter to reach the final of the season-ending Sony Ericsson Championships - Doha 2008.
Zvonareva, who had beaten Dementieva in three sets at Charleston earlier this year but lost to her in similarly tight matches at Roland Garros and the Olympics, toughed out a 76(7) 36 63 win over the No.5 seed, dashing her hopes of cracking the world's Top 3 for the first time (Dementieva was projected to rise to No.3 if she reached the final, and No.2 if she won the title). With the second and third sets going fairly decisively to each player, perhaps the key to the match was the first set, and Zvonareva was cool under pressure in it, rallying from 4-1 and 5-3 down during the set and saving one set point trailing 7-6 in the tie-break en route to taking a one set lead.
"I had such a great chance to win the first set, and then maybe finish in two sets," Dementieva said. "After losing the first set it was difficult to stay focused and try to fight, because she started playing with even more confidence. It was just a tough match, and I couldn't come back in the end. Vera played a great match."
"I've always had tough matches against Elena; she's a great fighter, so I knew I had to fight until the last point," Zvonareva said. "I've been playing against Top 10 players every day here. In every match I've had to play my best from start to finish. It's a great achievement for me to win all of my matches so far."
Zvonareva, the No.8 seed this week, played phenomenal tennis to even get to the semifinals, going 3-0 in her round robin group with wins over No.6 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova, No.4 seed Ana Ivanovic and No.1 seed Jelena Jankovic. That 26 63 64 win over Jankovic - during which she trailed 3-1 in the third set before rallying back - was her second career win over a reigning world No.1.
"It's very exciting just to be here at the Championships, and now to play on the last day it's even more special," Zvonareva said. "I didn't have any expectations. I felt confident about my game coming here, but I didn't know what was going to happen. I'm really happy with the way things have turned out so far. It's not every day you can play in the finals of the Championships; no matter what, I'm going to give 100% and we'll see what happens."
Only one of Zvonareva's 10 Sony Ericsson WTA Tour finals before this year even came at the Tier II level; during the regular season in 2008, four of the Russian's seven finals came at that level or higher, including Tier I finals at Charleston, Moscow and right here at the Khalifa Tennis Complex. At the Championships this week, her 18th career Tour singles final will be her biggest.
Awaiting the No.8-seeded Zvonareva in the title match will be No.7 seed Venus Williams, who beat Jankovic in the second semifinal of the day, 62 26 63. Williams had lost five of her last six meetings with Jankovic, the only win in that cluster coming in the quarterfinals of the US Open last year - and needing a third set tie-break to prevail in that match. But this time the American came out on top, dominating the first set and rebounding from a second set hiccup to handily claim the third set, and closing her head-to-head deficit against Jankovic to 4-5.
"What got me through the match was just being consistent at the right times," Williams said. "My game is about being aggressive and taking chances, but what I really needed to do today was put a lot more balls in play and be a little smarter. I played a little more defensively that I usually do, but it was worth it."
"I really fought hard this week, and Venus was the better one," Jankovic said. "She made less errors. What can I do? The season is over for me. That was my last match of the year. Of course it's disappointing to lose. But overall, when I look at finishing as the No.1 player in the world, I can only be proud, and I can look at it in a positive way. I can go to vacation with a smile on my face."
This is Williams' third time playing the Championships, having been a semifinalist in both of her previous appearances in 1999 (when she fell to Martina Hingis) and 2002 (retiring against eventual champion Kim Clijsters due to a leg injury). She has qualified five other times, but withdrew due to injury each time. She too went 3-0 in round robin play, notching wins over No.2 seed Dinara Safina, Dementieva and No.3 seed Serena Williams (evening the Williams-Williams series to 9-9).
"I've been in a bunch of pressure situations, so it won't faze me," said Williams, who lost her first career meeting with Zvonareva but has won their five matches since, all in straight sets. "I'll just focus on what I'm doing when I play Vera. That's all I can do. We've played a number of times and I guess I have a little bit of an advantage. Hopefully that will help me in the final tomorrow."