TOKYO, Japan - With a nagging back injury coming in, even she didn't come in believing it would happen. But sometimes good things happen when you least expect them to - and for Nadia Petrova it did this past week, as she won the 12th and biggest WTA title of her career at the Toray Pan Pacific Open.
Last week in Seoul, Petrova had to withdraw mid-tournament with a low back injury - and it was tested again this week across the water in Tokyo, as the No.17-seeded Russian barely scraped through two of her matches en route to the final, battling over three hours to beat Petra Martic in the third round and rallying from 63 41 down to beat No.6 seed Sara Errani in the quarterfinals.
But Petrova passed all those tests, and after a semifinal win over No.8 seed Samantha Stosur she found herself in the biggest final of her long career.
Before this week, Petrova had only ever beaten two Top 10 players at the same tournament once, right here in Tokyo in 2008 - and with wins over Errani and Stosur she matched that. But with World No.3 Agnieszka Radwanska awaiting in the final, she would have to break new ground if she wanted to take the title - beat three Top 10 players at the same tournament for the first time.
Things couldn't have started better for Petrova, as she blew through the first set 6-0, playing almost flawless tennis - 16 winners to three unforced errors. But her game went awry in the second set, hitting seven winners to 14 unforced errors - the No.3-seeded Radwanska took it, 6-1. The final was heading to a final set.
"I played great in the first set but may have used too much energy, and in the second set I felt flat," Petrova said. "It took me a while to recuperate and get back into the game. After the second set when I went to change my clothes, I had a few minutes to think about what to focus on in the third set."
For the first time in the match, the two players both started bringing out their best at the same time; 1-all, 2-all and 3-all followed, and then a Petrova hold for 4-3. Radwanska built a 40-30 lead in her next service game but double faulted twice from there and Petrova pounced, breaking for 5-3 - she then served it out, finishing it with a huge forehand swing volley winner. Final score: 60 16 63.
"After running out of gas in the second set, I don't know where I found the strength and willpower to fight in the third set, but I did and it feels amazing," Petrova said. "This is the biggest tournament I've ever won. It's a great accomplishment. And at the beginning of the tournament I definitely didn't expect to win the title, because of the back injury I've been struggling with.
"I'm so happy to be here right now."
Seven of Petrova's 11 previous WTA titles were Premiers, but this Premier was more blinged out than them all with $2,168,400 in prize money for the field - her previous biggest were Charleston and Berlin in 2006, with $1,340,000 each.
The 30-year-old Petrova was asked in her press conference about the recent surge in success of 30-somethings on the WTA. "There are a few players who have won Grand Slams after 30, and I feel like I don't want to walk away from tennis without accomplishing the same," she said. "I still find the will to wake up every morning and go on the court and just try to improve with each day.
"If it's meant to happen it will, but if it doesn't, at the end of my career I'll know I've done everything I could to achieve it," the former World No.3 added.
Radwanska, who was the defending champion in the Japanese capital, still has a pretty sparkling record in WTA finals in her career: 10-4.
"I'm disappointed - I wanted to win this title so much, and when you're so close and feel you can make it, it's always emotional if you don't," Radwanska said. "But she was playing really well. Her biggest weapon is her serve, for sure, but also her return was very good today, and I had to serve really well myself to hold my serve. But overall I think those two shots were working really well for her."