PATTAYA CITY, Thailand - Maria Kirilenko is nothing if not determined. And this week the Russian has been called to draw upon all her reserves of courage and fighting spirit during a drama-filled run to the final of the PTT Pattaya Open.
The latest gut check came on Saturday, as Kirilenko survived a valiant comeback to defeat Sorana Cirstea, 62 57 64. In a match that was characterized by aggressive hitting from both players, it was Kirilenko, the No.4 seed, who was the early pace setter, reeling off five games in a row to take the opening set in half an hour. Kirilenko continued this positive approach in the second and after breaking in the ninth game, served for the match.
However, Cirstea was not going quietly; she conjured up her best tennis of the match, winning the next three games, dropping just four points in the process, to force a third set. Yet it was the Romanian who was first to blink in the decider, dropping serve at 4-4 to allow Kirilenko to serve out the match.
"It was a high-quality match," Kirilenko said. "We both played very good tennis and I was just luckier today. She played so well and fought for every point and hit hard.
"I think I was very aggressive today and was happy with my serve, my return and my backhand finally, because in other matches I didn't play well on the backhand. I'm happy with my volleys. Everything was working."
This will be Kirilenko's first WTA final for nearly 16 months and she has certainly earned it, spending over nine-and-a-half hours on court. Defending champion Daniela Hantuchova, her opponent on Sunday, on the other hand, is yet to drop a set, requiring less than six hours to see off her four opponents. The latest of these was qualifier Hsieh Su-Wei, who, despite a spirited first set showing, eventually went down 64 61.
Saturday's only other match in Pattaya saw doubles top seeds Sania Mirza and Anastasia Rodionova defeat Akgul Amanmuradova and Kimiko Date-Krumm, 64 64. Meeting them in the final will be Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan.