To mark the end of an incredible 2017 season, we're counting down the Top 5 WTA matches of the year!
No.3 is Elena Vesnina's three-hour campaign through the Indian Wells desert, defeating countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova to win the BNP Paribas Open.
The first Premier Mandatory tournament of 2017 featured the first all-Russian women's final in over a decade. On one side was Svetlana Kuznetsova, the two-time major champion who rode a late-season surge into the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global semifinals, and was back in the Top 10 for the first time in seven years.
With a hard-fought win over future WTA World No.1 Karolina Pliskova, Kuznetsova rolled into her first final in the California desert since 2008. Three years earlier, a young Elena Vesnina came to Indian Wells in search of a spot in the qualifying draw, and fell in love with the lush surroundings that typify the Coachella Valley.
Fastforward to 2016 and Vesnina had thrice won the tournament in doubles, but was at a standstill in singles, falling out of the Top 100 and missing out a spot in the main draw.
The Russian soon reversed her fortunes with runs to the finals and semifinals in Charleston and Wimbledon, respectively, and was a formidable Top 20 foe by the time the tour returned to the Indian Wells Tennis Garden last spring.
Read the match report: Vesnina survives Kuznetsova marathon to win Indian Wells title
— WTA (@WTA) March 19, 2017
Vesnina vaulted over a valley of tough opposition from her first match against American Shelby Rogers to a streaking Timea Babos, later knocking out back-to-back former WTA World No.1s in Angelique Kerber and Venus Williams.
Surviving an on-fire Kristina Mladenovic in a Centre Court night match, Vesnina found herself a letcord from disaster in the light of day against Kuznetsova, barely losing the first set and falling behind 4-1 in the second.
She soon roared back, winning six of the next seven games to level the match, and pulled off a similar comeback in the decider to serve out the biggest win of her career, 6-7(5), 7-5, 6-4, after over three hours on court.
Her first singles title in nearly four years, the victory brought Vesnina up to a career-high ranking of No.13.
— WTA (@WTA) March 19, 2017
WHAT THEY SAID:
Vesnina was understandably on Cloud 9 following her fairytale finish. "Tennis is awesome, I can say," she told WTA Insider. "I think that my example is the good kind of self-belief, like, good kind of vibe for all players. All other girls on the tour who think, 'Oh, my God, this is the end of the world, end of my career, I lost first round of quallies, what can be worse than that?' You can regroup and get back.
"When I had a couple of good wins against the good players, I was, like, 'Okay, this is it. I have it. So just remember this. Remember your shots. Remember your kind of feelings on the court when you were winning these matches. Try to keep it as long as I can.'
"And now here I won the title, and this sounds like a miracle for everybody, for you guys, for me, for, I think, all the girls out there. I think nobody could pick me at the beginning of the tournament that I could win this title. Me, also. I couldn't pick myself."
Equally understandablе was Kuznetsova's withdrawn reaction to the disappointing defeat.
"I felt like when I was playing, I didn't feel good today, because she was very aggressive, and I was a little bit out of my game," she explained in press. "I was too far from the court, and I was running all the way, way behind, so the only thing I could do was defend, and I didn't serve well.
"I think that was overall the difference on the key points. Even when I made it 7-6, 4-1 and was one break, she kept being aggressive. I was too passive. I think that's why I lost."
WHAT IT MEANS:
Neither Vesnina nor Kuznetsova quite matched the heights achieved at altitude in Indian Wells. Vesnina was an outside contender for Singapore by season's end, but saved some of her best tennis for the doubles court. Returning to her successful doubles partnership with Ekaterina Makarova, she winning her fourth major title (third with Makarova) at Wimbledon and together became the first team in the Open Era to win the Rogers Cup in back-to-back years.
Kuznetsova broke ground at the majors by making her first Wimbledon quarterfinal in a decade - shocking former finalist Agnieszka Radwanska en route - to enjoy her best result at a Grand Slam tournament since 2013. A left wrist injury ultimately curtailed her progress, forcing her to withdraw from the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy Zhuhai.