BIRMINGHAM, England - Daniela Hantuchova overcame injury, a seemingly insurmountable deficit and the worst the British weather could throw at her to reach the semifinals of the Aegon Classic on Friday evening.
On an otherwise gloomy and rain-interrupted day, Hantuchova's three set thriller with Francesca Schiavone provided a rare bright spot at the Edgbaston Priory.
In the press conference after her win over Laura Robson earlier in the week, Hantuchova talked at length of her desire to return to the top of the game, and against Schiavone it was clear the competitive fires are still burning as bright as ever.
For much of the three hours and 20 minutes the pair spent on the newly built Ann Jones Centre Court, it appeared that it was to be Schiavone's day. However, the Italian, who led by a set and a break, could never quite find to the killer blow.
Hantuchova made her pay, reeling off the final seven points of the third set tie-break to triumph, 67(8) 64 76(3).
"I never gave up and I keep fighting for every point. It was tough, I had to change my strategy in the second set because I couldn't move so well and had to go for it a bit more," Hantuchova, who required treatment during the match for a leg injury, said. "On grass everything can change so quickly. Francesca is such a great competitor as well, so I think we were both enjoying the battle and we have so much respect for each other so it's always nice to play this kind of match.
"I think the tie-break was some of the best tennis I have played in a long, long time and some of those shots are going to stay with me for a long while."
Earlier in the day, 2009 champion Magdalena Rybarikova and Britain-based Donna Vekic booked their last four spots with surprisingly straightforward wins over Sorana Cirstea and Madison Keys, respectively.
After the premature exits of Kirsten Flipkens and Ekaterina Makarova, No.3 seed Cirstea was the highest-ranked player left in the draw, but she had no answer to Vekic's controlled aggression from the baseline, slipping to a 62 61 defeat.
"I like to attack and take control during the points and so playing on grass really suits me," Vekic said. "I spent a week before training with my coach David Felgate in London and it definitely helped.
"When I got to the final in Tashkent, I possibly wanted it too much, so here I'm just taking one match at a time. It would mean a lot to me to win my first title here on the grass, which is my favorite surface."
Rybarikova was equally impressive, requiring just 51 minutes to see off Keys, 63 60, and Vekic is aware of the challenge that lies in store. "I actually played her last year in Tashkent and it was my first ever WTA main draw win so I'm really looking forward to tomorrow," she added. "It's a different day and a different match, though, and I'll just try to do the best I can."