Zakopalova Edges Stephens In Thriller
Published February 13, 2013 12:00
DOHA, Qatar - The first epic of the Qatar Total Open took place on Wednesday afternoon, as Klara Zakopalova battled two hours and 41 minutes and saved four match points to beat No.16 seed Sloane Stephens and move through to the third round of the Premier-level tournament, 46 76(5) 76(5).
Stephens, who was coming off an Australian season that saw her win 10 of 13 matches and more than half her ranking from from No.38 to No.17, seemed headed for a straight set win as she built a 64 53 lead and served for the match - she even had three match points in that game. But Zakopalova fought them all off, as well as a fourth match point in the next game, and took the set in a tie-break.
The story was similar in the third set as Stephens was up a break three times, including serving for the match again at 6-5, but again Zakopalova and her powerful, flat ground game were just too solid.
Zakopalova's reward for the victory is a third round match-up with No.3 seed Maria Sharapova.
Speaking of top seeds, also among the early winners was No.4 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who was in trouble early in the second set against Anastasia Rodionova, serving 1-2, 30-40. But the World No.4 went on a roll from there, reeling off five straight games to beat the Australian qualifier, 63 62.
"I felt pretty good out there today," Radwanska said after the match. "For sure the conditions weren't easy - it was really windy, and the wind changed every couple of minutes - but I'm very happy I could play some really good tennis in the important moments and finish this match in two sets."
Radwanska's win over Rodionova was her 14th match win of the year, putting her in a three-way tie for most match wins this year with Li Na and Mona Barthel. Since Li isn't playing this week, leaving the tournament it could be either Radwanska or Barthel as the standalone match win leader for the year.
"It has definitely been a great start to the season," Radwanska said. "I didn't really expect to win so many matches in a row to start - two titles in a row is always a great thing, I think. It was also the first time I played two tournaments before Australia. I think it was a really good idea. I can't complain about that. This week I just hope I can continue to play good tennis. We will see what happens."
It may be hard to believe given she has been lurking among the upper echelon for years, but it has been less than a year since Radwanska first broke the Top 5 - she did it on February 27, 2012. So how hard is it to maintain a Top 5 ranking? "It's especially hard being Top 5," the Pole said. "It means we have to play a lot of good tournaments, not just one or two good tournaments. You have to play on a good level pretty much the whole year and try to be very consistent. That's what I'm trying to do.
"So it definitely doesn't matter which tournament I'm at, I'm always trying to win."
Zakopalova against Stephens and Radwanska against Rodionova were two of five matches that were first on - the other three winners among that first wave of matches were No.6 seed Sara Errani, who lost just eight points in the last seven games to beat Timea Babos, 64 60; No.11 seed Nadia Petrova, who rallied from 63 20 down to beat Hsieh Su-Wei, 36 62 64; and Christina McHale, who won nine straight games from 4-1 down in the first set and eventually beat No.17 seed Lucie Safarova, 64 62.