SOFIA, Bulgaria - The round robin wrapped up and semifinal match-ups were set at the Qatar Airways Tournament Of Champions Sofia on Friday, as Nadia Petrova outdid Tsvetana Pironkova and finished first in Group Sredets.
With Group Serdika's Top 2 already set - Caroline Wozniacki finished No.1, Roberta Vinci finished at No.2 - the Top 2 for Group Sredets boiled down to Friday's encounter between Petrova and Pironkova, the winner of which would finish No.1 in the group and the loser of which would finish No.2 in the group.
Pironkova had beaten Petrova in their only previous meeting and things looked headed the same way as she took the opening set, 7-5. But Petrova regrouped and came out very strong from there, winning nine of the next 10 games to win the second set, 6-1, and go up 3-0 in the third; Pironkova stopped the avalanche temporarily, winning three games to even it, 3-all, but Petrova rebounded with three of her own to close out a 57 61 63 win, improving to 3-0 in the group.
So, the semifinal match-ups are now set for Saturday, with the No.1s from each group playing the No.2s from the other group: Wozniacki will play Pironkova (Wozniacki has won all three of their previous meetings) and Petrova will play Vinci (Petrova and Vinci have split their four previous meetings).
"Roberta is one of those tricky players - she uses a one-handed backhand and uses a lot of slice, which is unusual for the women's game and brings a lot of trouble for her opponents," Petrova said. "But since we're playing indoors the conditions are faster, so if I'm serving well and putting pressure on her service games and being aggressive, I hope tomorrow's match will be in my favor."
Wozniacki will make a return to the Top 10 if she beats Pironkova, going from No.11 to No.10 (pushing Marion Bartoli from No.10 down to No.11).
Pironkova is excited for the match: "With each match I'm playing better and better, and I hope I can still keep improving tomorrow," the Bulgarian said. "It is going to be tough against Caroline, but I think I'll have my chances.
"The crowd has been amazing this week. They're getting bigger and bigger each day, which makes me very happy, and tomorrow we're expecting full capacity, so it'll be an amazing atmosphere out there. I'm very excited to play."
There were two other round robin matches Friday, though neither affected the semifinals. First up was Sofia Arvidsson facing Zheng Jie - Arvidsson was an alternate, stepping in for Maria Kirilenko, who had to withdraw from the tournament with an upper respiratory illness - and lightning struck again, as Zheng had to retire down 5-1 in the first set of this match with the same ailment.
Arvidsson was asked afterwards about having the same first name as the city. "Yeah, that's very special actually, it's really cool," she said. "I was so excited yesterday when they told me I get to play - and it's a very nice arena, so I'm very happy I got a chance to play on it. Seeing my name on the court was funny."
In the last match of the day, Hsieh Su-Wei and Daniela Hantuchova battled it out, Hsieh trying to use her mix of spins and angles to unsettle the hard-hitting Slovak - and it did, as the Taiwanese No.1 won in a close finish, 61 06 64.
"I was trying really hard to win today," Hsieh said. "I just played her in Pattaya this year and it was tough. She has a great serve, great return and great volleys - I just tried to get every ball back and stay consistent, and just play my game.
"It was a wonderful experience to be here and it has been a great year for me, my fans and tennis in Taiwan," Hsieh continued. "First we had our first WTA winner in 19 years then the second one, then I made it here to Sofia."