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Petrova & Pironkova Qualify For Semifinals

Nadia Petrova and Tsvetana Pironkova play Friday to see who finishes No.1 and No.2 in their group.

Published November 01, 2012 12:00

Petrova & Pironkova Qualify For Semifinals
Nadia Petrova

SOFIA, Bulgaria - Nadia Petrova edged Maria Kirilenko at the Qatar Airways Tournament Of Champions Sofia on Thursday afternoon, and - after Kirilenko was forced to withdraw from the event afterwards - Petrova and Tsvetana Pironkova secured spots in the semifinals of the season-ender.

For close to three hours - two hours and 48 minutes, to be exact - Petrova and Kirilenko put their aggressive games on display at Arena Armeec, having both won their first round robin matches in straight sets the day before. They had split their eight previous meetings - who would break the head-to-head tie?

After Kirilenko took the first set, Petrova stayed close in the second set, twice going up a break but losing those breaks right away, but eventually taking it in a tie-break anyway. They were neck-and-neck early in the third but Petrova made one final push and completely pulled away, reeling off four straight games from 2-3 - winning 16 of the last 20 points of the match, too - to finish it, 36 76(4) 63.

"In the beginning I couldn't understand why my shots were flying long so much - I was really making a lot of unforced errors that way, and it was frustrating," Petrova said. "I've been changing a lot of racquets and I'm still trying to figure out which tension to use, because I didn't really have enough days to practice here before starting to play, but today I switched to a tighter tension and I'm happy I could fight through those circumstances and beat such a tough player.

"This win for sure is going to give me some confidence," the Russian added. "She's the toughest opponent in the group and it was a very tight match, and now I have a 2-0 lead in the group - every little advantage helps here."

The match was so close, Kirilenko actually won more points than Petrova - 101 to 100. And another stat that might defy expectations - Kirilenko out-aced Petrova in the match, 9-7, somewhat of a surprise given Petrova has been the ace leader on the WTA two of the last five years (Serena Williams has been the leader twice, and Marion Bartoli snuck in there for one year too).

Unfortunately, Kirilenko was forced to withdraw from the tournament afterwards due to an upper respiratory illness, meaning Petrova and Pironkova will be the two players qualifying for the semifinals out of Group Sredets - they will play each other on Friday to determine who finishes No.1 and No.2 in the group. Zheng Jie will play an alternate, though neither can qualify for the semis.

Pironkova beat Petrova in their only previous meeting.

Kirilenko talked about the withdrawal later: "I'm very sorry that I cannot continue to play my matches here at the Qatar Airways Tournament Of Champions Sofia. It was such an honor to receive the wildcard and I just want to thank Tournament Director Stefan Tzvetkov for giving me the chance to compete here in Sofia. Unfortunately with this illness I can't finish the tournament as I'd have wished, but I've really enjoyed my time in Bulgaria and hope to be back."

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