Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Pironkova unleashed

Other than the lawns of Wimbledon and the sight of Venus Williams, it's hard to know what motivates the International Woman of Tennis Mystery known as Tsvetana Pironkova. Possessed of a very fine first serve, an understated aggression and a deceptively lethal forehand, the Bulgarian player can do a lot of damage on those occasions when she appears to really "be there."

She has been "there," in Sydney, for a while now, having had to go through qualifying to get into the main draw. In the qualifying rounds, she beat Ayumi Morita, Marnya Zanevska and Shahar Peer. In the opening round, Pironkova defeated Sorana Cirstea, and in the second round, she defeated Varvara Lepchenko. Yesterday, she beat 3rd seed Sara Errani 7-6, 6-3.

It was a very enjoyable match, with some strong momentum changes. Pironkova's confidence was very high in the first set, and she was able to match the Italian's signature relentless barrage of groundstrokes. Pironkova won a lot of those rallies with her forehand, which loops just a little (when it's not being sliced) and therefore differs from what we now think of as a potentially deadly forehand shot. Pironkova's tennis is like--well, like Pironkova. The Bulgarian player is loose-limbed and relaxed, and not given to producing postures that make commentators talk about "focus." The thing is, when she's in a winning frame of mind, Pironkova makes it all look so easy.

It wasn't easy, though. Sara Errani is a tough cookie, and she broke Pironkova when she served for the first set at 5-3. Broke her easily. And then we got the "not so there" version of Pironkova that we know only too well. This was the point at which things could have taken a big turn, but the Bulgarian player--perhaps unexpectedly--got her groove back and forced a tiebreak which she won with ease.

Errani had to take a medical timeout during the second set; her back was hurting her. But after she was treated, she fought her way, Italian style, back into the match. Still, Pironkova was able to claim victory in straight sets. Certainly Errani was less than herself once the back injury occurred--although she put on a pretty good show in spite of it--but that shouldn't take away from Pironkova's outstanding performance. Alas, the Bulgarian has a terrible second serve (kind of unusual for someone capable of hitting so many good first serves), but so does Errani, so that issue was equalized.

Next up for the IWTM--Petra Kvitova. In an all lefty-Czeck contest, Kvitova beat Lucie Safarova 7-6, 6-2. The first set was stunning, as Safarova took it to Kvitova from the outset. Both players served wonderfully, and we really had no way of knowing who was going to take the first set until the very end. But it was Kvitova who took it, and she used that momentum to leave Safarova behind in the second set.

Those were two really good matches! Also winning was Angelique Kerber, who beat Carla Suarez Navarro, and Madison Keys, who won when Bethanie Mattek-Sands retired with a groin injury (here we go again?--I hope not).

Meanwhile, in Hobart, Sam Stosur has to fight off Kristina Mladenovic. Stosur won, 6-4, 2-6, 7-6. She also saved two match points. Mladenovic saved one match point right before Stosur won the tiebreak. Sadly, defending champion Elena Vesnina had retire in the third set of her match against Cabeza Candela. The Russian has a hip injury.


Todd.Spiker said...

"International Woman of Tennis Mystery."

Love that! Allow herself to introduce... herself. ;)

Diane said...

I think she may be the biggest enigma--perhaps with the troublesome exception of Petra--on the tour. She's capable of so much yet generally does so little. I really like her persona; she amuses me.

Doug said...

I like them too. Add Lucie to the IWTM. Watching her this week has been exhilarating. A lot like Kvitova in her shotmaking (they're good friends offcourt). I remember that when she first appeared she took down three top ten players in one tournament, including a Williams. Then... injuries and who knows what else (that's where the IWTM membership comes in.)

Diane said...

Yeah, Lucie's hard to figure, also. So much talent, but not the results to match. And she does play a lot like Petra.