September 29, 2012


As I wait with bated breath for my favorite guilty pleasure show to begin tomorrow night, I can't help notice there was similar feeling to the late-round matches of the Pan Pacific Open. A couple women with some long and grueling histories took the court looking to change the recent course of history -- and the results weren't always what you'd expect.

Nadia Petrova and Sam Stosur have been playing each other for eight years on Tour, and though the Russian got off to the better start -- she won their first four meetings in straight sets -- tables had recently turned in Stosur's favor. In one of the longest and most grueling ladies' matches of last year's U.S. Open, the eventual champion edged Petrova on her fifth match point, after over three hours, two tiebreaks and thirty-eight games. Petrova returned the favor this past March in Indian Wells, but Sam's win at Roland Garros suggested the Australian brought her game better on the big stage.

Both had rough roads to the semis in Tokyo. In the second round Stosur faced off against the woman who stunned her in the Paris final a few years back and a few matches later took out long-time nemesis Maria Sharapova, a woman against whom she held a 1-10 deficit. Petrova, meanwhile, was down a set and nearly two breaks against Sara Errani in their quarterfinal before she rallied for the win. Often spotty in her play -- the world #18 has lost fourteen first rounds in the last two seasons -- and her attitude, she was the on-paper and emotional underdog against Stosur. But somehow able to raise her game when it counted, Petrova fired off nice aces, won eighty-five percent of her first serves and saved every break point she faced. With the win, she not only battled her way into her second final of the year, but avenged her recent losses and proved she could still hit with the big girls.

In the other half of the draw defending champion Aggie Radwanska and Angelique Kerber, both arguably having the year of their careers, were on their own collision course. Kerber had also shocked Radwanska in New York last year when, ranked #92 in the world, she stopped short the run of a woman who'd put together a solid summer herself, and made her way to the semis as the clear Cinderella story. Aggie had gotten two wins since then, but Kerber has been steadily improving her game, and post-Wimbledon she might have be the one with momentum on her side.

This week in Tokyo both were on point. Aggie's only real challenge came from a rejuvenated Caroline Wozniacki in the quarters, but with a straight set win there too, she seemed to have recovered from the shoulder injury that plagued her all summer. Kerber, too, had an easy run, dismissing Aggie's quickly ascending sister Urszula in under fifty minutes and getting a walkover when top seed Victoria Azarenka pulled out with dizziness. Radwanska might have been a little relieved by that development -- she'd lost her last six matches against the world #1, all this season, each by a wider margin than the last -- and perhaps that, combined with her need to prove her loss to Kerber last year was a fluke, caused her to up her game in Friday's semi. Twenty winners, four errors and an hour of play later, she had made her way back to the final, her fifth of the year.

Revenge was on the menu for the final too. Aggie had a 3-1 record over her foe, but those first two wins were hard fought three setters and they hadn't met once since 2008. Still, with her dominating win in the previous round and with far fewer hours on court this week, the Pole was better rested and playing better ball. So watching her go down 0-6 in the first set was a bit of a surprise. Petrova stumbled in the second, though, losing five games in a row before getting back on the board, but the third seed eventually closed out the set and forced a decider. Somehow, though, the Russian was able to regroup. On serve for the first six games of the third, Petrova finally earned and converted a break chance in the eighth, serving out the match after just over a hundred minutes.

The title, Petrova's second of the year, certainly allays some fears around her erratic play. It marks the first time she won two trophies in one season since 2006 and the first time she beat three top-ten players to get one. When Monday's rankings come out, she'll have climbed back to #14 in the world, but maybe more importantly, the veteran player will have proven she's not to be counted out quite yet.

After all, don't they always say success is the best revenge?

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