MOSCOW, Russia -- 17-year-old wild card Anastasia Potapova thrilled her compatriot crowd at the Moscow River Cup as she advanced to her first WTA final on Saturday, coming back from a set down to defeat an ailing Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek, 3-6, 6-4, 5-2, ret.
"I can’t hold in my emotions any longer," Potapova exclaimed during her on-court interview after the match. "It’s my dream to play a final at home before my fans – I’m so happy today."
"Yesterday I had a really tough day, too," Potapova continued. "Two three set matches, two wins, so I’m very glad I was able to come through today. Hopefully I’ll feel better tomorrow for the final.”
The teenaged Russian had 26 winners to 29 unforced errors during the match. Zidansek, who struggled with GI distress throughout the match, had 29 winners but was undone by 36 unforced errors, and found it too difficult to overcome her illness as the match moved towards its conclusion.
Potapova, the 2016 girls' singles champion at Wimbledon, needed an hour and 55 minutes to successfully make it through to the championship match, where she will meet another 17-year-old making her WTA final debut, lucky loser Olga Danilovic of Serbia, who overcame No.5 seed Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus.
Zidansek chose to receive serve to start the match, and that turned out to be an excellent decision, breaking a slow-starting Potapova in the opening game. The Russian then fired two double faults in her next service game to hand Zidansek a double-break lead, and when the Slovene reached 4-0, the opening set result seemed to be a formality.
But Potapova began to work her way into points midway through the set, and claimed one break back at 4-1. The Russian had Zidansek in trouble at 4-3 as well, holding two break points to level the set at 4-4, but backhand errors from the Russian on her chances allowed Zidansek to regroup and hold for 5-3.
As it turned out, that would be Potapova’s final chance to turn around the set, as the Zidansek forehand came through with a couple of well-placed winners to reach double set point. On her second chance, the Slovene took the one-set lead after a Potapova forehand found the net. Zidansek had nine winners in the set, to Potapova’s four.
However, Zidansek had a medical time-out after the first set, where her blood pressure was checked, and the Slovene’s defense seemed less energetic while Potapova improved in the second set. The Russian needed five break points in the opening game but eventually did take the 1-0 lead with a forehand winner.
The trainer came out for Zidansek again after the Slovene double faulted to fall behind a second break for 3-0. This started a run of four straight breaks, and when the dust settled, Potapova was up a single break at 4-2. The Russian maintained that lead, and held four set points on Zidansek’s serve at 5-3 before the Slovene escaped that precarious situation to hold for 5-4.
Potapova seemed initially unfazed after missing those chances, racing to triple set point. But the teenager squandered the first two chances, and suddenly was on set point number seven. That one was indeed lucky, though as Potapova crushed a forehand winner off of a middling drop shot by Zidansek to level the match at one set apiece.
Potapova maintained the momentum as the decider began, breaking Zidansek immediately for the 1-0 lead. Zidansek had two chances to claim the break back at 2-1, but the steely Russian staved off both of those opportunities to hold for 3-1.
The wind seemed to be out of the hampered Zidansek’s sails as the final set reached its conclusion, while Potapova’s service return continued to improve. That shot led the Russian to triple break point at 4-2, and once she broke Zidansek at love for a 5-2 lead with a forehand winner, the Slovene retired, and Potapova celebrated a first-ever final on the WTA.