NEW YORK, NY, USA - Until now Tsvetana Pironkova had only made it past the second round of a Grand Slam at Wimbledon, in fact going far past that round there - the semifinals in 2010 and the quarterfinals in 2011. But on Saturday the Bulgarian made a name for herself somewhere else, winning a big mental battle to break through to the fourth round of the US Open in NYC.
Pironkova seemed to be cruising against Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, building a hefty 61 41 lead; but things really began falling apart at that juncture.
"I was up a set and 4-1 and got a little bit shaky," Pironkova said. "My serve started going out. I couldn't put it in the court. It made things complicated."
Soler-Espinosa took that second set in a tie-break, but with temperatures scorching, the heat rule was in play - and it would help Pironkova's play.
"We got a bit of a break and it helped me to concentrate again," Pironkova said afterwards. "After that I was just trying to put my serve in, because that was very important in the match. I'm very, very happy I managed to win today."
The final score of the three set battle would be 61 67(3) 63.
Pironkova talked about her love for playing the bigger tournaments. "It's a funny thing - I really love playing the major tournaments, not just the Grand Slams, but the other big ones too," she declared. "They motivate me. Playing on a big court against a big player, that's what I play for. It makes me play better."
Pironkova's next opponent will be No.12 seed Ana Ivanovic, who rallied from a set down to beat Sloane Stephens, 67(4) 64 62. Ivanovic hasn't reached the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam since winning her only Grand Slam title at the French Open in 2008 - she is now one win away from breaking the pattern.
Ivanovic and Pironkova are tied in their head-to-head series, 1-1, but in their only WTA-level meeting it was Pironkova who prevailed, at Rome in 2008.
"Ana and I haven't played for three or four years but I played a great match against her in Rome and won, so I have a good memory against her," Pironkova said of the looming encounter. "But it has been a long time since then."
Other winners later in the day were another pair of Grand Slam standouts, Angelique Kerber and Sara Errani, and they were both rock solid on the numbers front against a pair of Olgas. Kerber, a two-time Grand Slam semifinalist and the No.6 seed here, hit 20 winners to just five unforced errors to blow past Olga Govortsova of Belarus, 61 62; Errani, a finalist at this year's French Open and the No.10 seed this fortnight, hit 10 winners to just seven unforced errors to ease past Russian qualifier Olga Puchkova, 61 61.
"I think that will be a very tough and close match," Kerber said. "I lost against her in Paris. I will just go out there and try to play my game and we'll see."