PATTAYA CITY, Thailand - Facing an inspired opponent on a new breath of life, Daniela Hantuchova wouldn't let go as she sought the first sucessful title defense of her career, coming from a set down and battling three hours and 14 minutes to beat Maria Kirilenko and reign again at the PTT Pattaya Open.
Hantuchova won the International-level title on debut last year, and as the No.3 seed this year cruised into the final without dropping a set - but there was someone else building a lot of momentum on the other half of the draw.
Kirilenko, seeded No.4, had risen from the ashes a few times during the week, saving a match point against Casey Dellacqua in the first round then rallying from 5-2 down in the third against Anastasia Rodionova in the second round. Still standing, she seemed inspired to fight to the end one more time.
Kirilenko took the early advantage in the final, breaking in the first game and holding onto that break for a 5-3 first set lead - Hantuchova got the set back on serve and won the first two points of the tie-break but Kirilenko came on strong again, closing the 72-minute opening set out in the breaker, 7-4.
That's when Hantuchova went right to work though, jumping out to a 2-0 lead in the second set and eventually winning it, 6-3, then stepping it up from 3-all in the third set, winning three straight games (and 12 of 15 points) to close out a marathon 67(4) 63 63 victory in front of an enthralled center court crowd.
"I'm happy to defend my title - it was the first time I defended a title in my career, but it's better late than never!" Hantuchova said. "Maria and I both wanted to win the title today. She played so well and put a lot of pressure on me. Even after I lost the first set I kept fighting and never looked back, and I think I was also luckier tonight. Maria is a great player and a great person too."
Hantuchova won her fifth WTA title, her first four coming at Indian Wells in 2002, Indian Wells and Linz in 2007 and here in Pattaya City last year.
"I always play well under good conditions and surroundings," Hantuchova said. "I feel comfortable playing in Pattaya City. I love the weather, the courts are in the hotel and near the beach, and the people are all so nice here."
Kirilenko was playing her 10th WTA final and is now 5-5 in those - six of those 10 finals have come in Asia (she is now 3-3 in WTA finals in Asia).
There was another marathon later on, as No.1 seeds Sania Mirza and Anastasia Rodionova won a 36 61 108 thriller against No.4 seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Chan Yung-Jan in the doubles final, rallying from a set down and eventually 4-0 down in the match tie-break to win their first WTA doubles title together. Mirza won her 13th WTA doubles title, Rodionova her fourth.