Kirilenko Captures Hearts & Seoul
Published September 28, 2008 12:00
SEOUL, Korea - Twelve months ago she came out on the losing end of a three set final at the Hansol Korea Open... what a difference a year makes. It was Maria Kirilenko's time to shine in Seoul this year, as she rallied past a game Samantha Stosur on Sunday for the title, 26 61 64.
Kirilenko came back to Korea on a mission. She won her first three matches in dominant fashion just like a top seed is expected to, dropping a total of just 13 games in straight set wins over Lenka Wienerova, Lucie Safarova and No.5 seed Pauline Parmentier. She was nearly derailed in the semifinals by aggressive No.3 seed Kaia Kanepi, however, but she still prevailed, 64 36 64.
"I was very happy to make it to the final a second time," said Kirilenko, who lost to Venus Williams in a thrilling 2007 final, 63 16 64. "My match against Kanepi was very difficult. I was down 2-0 in the third set and every game was really difficult. It was really challenging. I was relieved to win and move into the final."
Apart from a second round slugfest with Sabine Lisicki - as she beat the young German, 64 67(4) 63 - Stosur was storming through the draw also, losing a total of just 10 games in her other three matches. The Australian, who was unseeded, cruised into her fourth career Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles final, having finished runner-up in her first three, at Gold Coast and Sydney in 2005 (to Patty Schnyder and Alicia Molik, respectively) and at Prague in 2006 (to Shahar Peer).
Stosur's hunger for her first Tour singles title was evident in the first set of the title match, as she barely gave an inch in her service games and broke her opponent's twice en route to a 6-2 victory. Stosur's most noteworthy service stat was perhaps her 93% winning percentage when she put a first serve in. But against the creative, aggressive play of Kirilenko she just couldn't keep it going; the Russian took advantage of her opponent's increasingly erratic play and found her own range again, coming from behind to earn a 26 61 64 victory.
"She started so fast and served so well, and for me it was difficult to return her serve," Kirilenko said. "In the second set I started to be more concentrated, because in the first set I was out of the game. I decided to play every ball, no matter what happened, and I just started to fight. It worked, and I'm very happy. The last two matches were really tough for me, so I'm feeling great right now."
"The momentum switched around; I got passive with the way I was playing and she stepped it up and became more aggressive," Stosur said. "It continued through 4-0 in the third. I knew I had to stop it. I started stepping up and going for it more, being more aggressive and taking some time away from her. And I got myself back in the match, but she played well at the end to finish it."
Kirilenko came away with her third singles title of the year, having also won titles during the clay court season in Estoril and Barcelona. This one could perhaps be more meaningful to the 21-year-old Muscovite, however, as she had fallen first round in her last three tournaments, at New Haven and the US Open in August and Tokyo last week. She won five matches in a row to win in Seoul.
"In Tokyo I lost to Bartoli and at the US Open I lost to Paszek - those were both really tough first round matches," Kirilenko said. "This year I have had some ups and downs. I'm really trying to be more consistent in my results. If I was more consistent I think I would be ranked higher, maybe Top 10 or Top 15. But I have time to improve. I'm only 21 and I'll get more experience in the time to come."
The doubles final, which followed the singles final, pitted No.1 seeds Chuang Chia-Jung and Hsieh Su-Wei against No.3 seeds Kirilenko and Vera Dushevina. And it was Chuang and Hsieh who prevailed, 63 60, for their third Tour doubles title together; they had previously won at Beijing and Seoul last year. Chuang came away with her 10th individual Tour doubles title, while Hsieh won her fourth.