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Championships Profile: Vera Zvonareva
DOHA, Qatar – It’s been another brilliant year for the Russian women, what with Dinara Safina’s rise to No.2 in the world and Elena Dementieva’s gold medal at the Olympics. But in terms of pure rankings it is Vera Zvonareva, the player Dementieva and Safina shared the podium with in Beijing, who has made the greatest strides among the country’s established stars.
Currently ranked No.9 in the world, Zvonareva isn’t new to the Top 10; she isn’t even new to the Tour Championships, having played the event in 2004. But the 24-year-old has been missing from the big leagues for a couple of years.
At the close of 2004 Zvonareva was ranked 11th, having breached the Top 10 during the season, but by the end of 2005 she had slipped to No.42 as a litany of injury woes hampered her progress and hit her confidence. The road back has been a gradual one – 2006 and 2007 were spent in the not-quite-roaring twenties – but 2008 was the year Vera got her groove back.
The signs were there in January, when she reached the final at Hobart, only to give a walkover to Eleni Daniilidou due to a left ankle injury. That was followed by a not-so-surprising first round loss to Ai Sugiyama at the Australian Open. But a month later she returned to action at the Qatar Total Open in Doha, where, ranked No.27, she dispatched three seeds on her way to the final, where it took Maria Sharapova to end her run in three sets.
It was, it turns out, no flash in the pan. Never once during the next four months did a more mature Zvonareva lose to a lower-ranked opponent: Venus Williams in the quarters at Bangalore, Ana Ivanovic at the same stage at Indian Wells, Jelena Jankovic in the semis at Miami and Serena Williams in the final at Charleston. The inevitable title triumph finally came at Prague in May, where as the top seed Zvonareva beat fast-rising Victoria Azarenka in the final; then it was up to Venus Williams to beat her again in the third round at Rome, while Elena Dementieva prevailed in the last 16 at Roland Garros.
During this period Zvonareva scored wins of her own over Jankovic, Safina and Dementieva. By contrast, the British grass and North American hardcourt seasons were lackluster, but before the US Open came that superb bronze medal effort at Beijing, and afterwards Zvonareva returned to China to capture her second title of the year, and seventh overall, in the hothouse conditions of Guangzhou.
One of the perks of Zvonareva’s improving stocks was inclusion in Russia’s all-conquering Fed Cup team. Having been part of the line-up that won in 2004, Zvonareva played her part in the country’s victory over Spain in the 2008 final by beating Anabel Medina Garrigues on clay in Madrid – no mean feat. Although Zvonareva would subsequently retire against the Spaniard at Zürich, the Russian’s autumn otherwise entailed only losses to Serbian superstars; three weeks in a row Zvonareva ran into Jankovic, most notably in the final at the Russian’s home tournament, the Kremlin Cup.
“It feels good to finish the year in the Top 10 and it’s a great accomplishment that I have reached the Sony Ericsson Championships this year,” said Zvonareva after clinching her spot during the Generali Ladies Linz, where she fell to Ivanovic in the title match. “It has been a while since I last played and it feels wonderful to be one of the best eight players of the regular season. I played really well at the Qatar Total Open earlier this year and look forward to returning.”