Nadia Petrova completed one of the best weeks of her tennis career by taking the Toray Pan Pacific Open 2012 title on Saturday. She upset the third seed and defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska 6-0, 1-6, 6-3 for her twelfth and biggest-ever tournament victory.
The 30-year-old Russian has had a lower profile on the tour for several years, but, at her best, is capable of fine performances. Her solid, consistent groundstrokes have led her to victories over many top players, and her formidable serve has been described as one of the best on the WTA tour. Also a talented doubles player, she can move up the court and volley successfully.
After reaching a career high ranking of 3 in 2006, and tipped as a favourite for the French Open title that year, Petrova suffered a series of injuries, including ankle and back ailments. The next few years saw her struggle for confidence and consistency. Although she remained in the top 30, reaching several Grand Slam quarter-finals and beating elite players such as Serena Williams from time to time, it seemed that her career had peaked, and that her days of challenging for major titles were over.
Nevertheless, Petrova has made a steady climb back up the rankings in 2012. She won her first-ever grass court title in Holland in June, and reached the fourth round of the US Open, pushing Maria Sharapova to three sets. In Tokyo this week, she was a surprise finalist, beating French Open finalist Sara Errani and former 2011 US Open champion Sam Stosur on her way to the title match. Against the creative and consistent Agnieszka Radwanska, however, few picked her to win. It was assumed that the Pole’s greater variety and coolness under pressure would be Petrova’s undoing.
But the Russian began the match imperiously, her serve firing on all cylinders. Hitting three aces and winning 80% of her first serve points, she also broke Radwanska three times, achieving a rare “bagel” set against her crafty opponent.
The second set was almost a complete reversal. Petrova’s groundstrokes began to lose consistency and the unforced errors piled up, allowing Radwanska to get on the board and back into the match. Suddenly, it was the Pole’s serve that was the dominant weapon, as she hit four aces and saved all break points against her on the way to winning the set 6-1. Could Petrova regroup in time for the deciding set, or would she continue to fade, the momentum having swung decisively against her?
After leaving the stadium for a bathroom break, the 17th seed answered this question by once more producing some superb tennis. Radwanska is known for her error-free style of play, misdirecting her opponents and forcing them to go for too much in their frustration. But Petrova held firm, and took advantage of the only break point opportunity in the entire set when she hit a backhand winner to reach 5-3. Serving for the match in the next game, she closed out the victory with a forehand volley winner, sinking to her knees in delight.
It was a disappointing end to an otherwise impressive week for Radwanska, who looked to have regained top form after a disappointing showing at the US Open. The world number three was uncharacteristically angry following the defeat, berating herself for hitting double faults at inopportune moments. Petrova, on the other hand, couldn’t have been happier.
“It’s a great accomplishment. At the beginning of the tournament I never expected to win the title. I’m so happy to be here right now,” she said.
Petrova will climb to 14th place in the rankings next week, as the WTA field moves onto the last major main draw event of the year, the China Open. Having picked up a handy $385000 for her exploits in Tokyo, the elated Russian will be hopeful of continuing her surprise renaissance.