Top seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark and Roberta Vinci of Italy made short work of their opponents on the first day of the WTA Tournament of Champions in Sofia, but the crowd at Arena Armeec Sofia was treated to a nail-biter in the last match of the day, which saw Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova emerge victorious after a three-hour contest.
In the first match of the tournament, Vinci needed just an hour and five minutes to prevail over Daniela Hantuchova, once ranked as high as fifth in the world, in straight sets 6-1, 6-2.
Hantuchova was very sluggish from the get go, committing a large number of unforced errors and allowing Vinci to race to a 5-0 lead after only 19 minutes of play, despite the Italian sending more than half of her first serve into the net.
Vinci improved her serve dramatically in the second set, whereas Hantuchova’s errors persisted; despite saving one match point, the Slovak had nothing in the tank and Vinci won the match two points later.
In the second match, tournament favourite Wozniacki was even quicker in dispatching her opponent, Hsieh Su-wei of Taiwan, taking one hour to win 6-2, 6-2.
Wozniacki converted all five of her break point opportunities, while Hsieh could manage the feat only once in three attempts. Wozniacki also showed a remarkably efficient first serve, whereas Hsieh had trouble getting her first serve in half the time.
But the final match of the day, which pitted Pironkova against Zheng Jie of China, compensated for the drama that was lacking in the earlier two, also lasting longer than the earlier matches combined – nearly three hours.
Pironkova started the match rather subdued and rarely tested her opponent, who took the first set 6-2. In the second, the Bulgarian began playing more daringly and stretching each point rally, taking her opportunities when presented and winning 6-4.
Pironkova continued in the same vein early in the third quarter, breaking her opponent’s serve twice and racing to a 3-0 lead, but presented with the opportunity to all but secure victory, she reverted to her earlier form from the first set, allowing Jie to claw her way back into the match.
Up 5-4 and serving for the match, Pironkova appeared to crack under the pressure, failing to win a single point in the game. Nevertheless, she appeared to have calmed somewhat by her next service game, forcing a tie-break. In yet another reversal, Pironkova shifted back to her second-set form, winning the decisive game 7-4.
After the match, Pironkova, a former semi-finalist at Wimbledon, described it as the most emotional match of her career, saying that the public’s support was the clinching factor in her win.
“I had never played in front of so many people in Bulgaria. I want to thank the crowd for their support until the end, it helped me stay focused and seek the win until the very last point,” Pironkova said.
On the second day of the round robin stage, Pironkova will play against Russia’s Maria Kirilenko on October 31, while Jie will take on another Russian, Nadia Petrova. Both matches are in the Sredets group of the tournament. The only match in the other group will pit Wozniacki against Vinci, with the winner virtually guaranteed a spot in the semi-finals.
(Pironkova celebrates winning against Jie. Photo: sofia-tennis.bg)