SEOUL, South Korea - Maria Kirilenko, a former World No.10 who has fallen out of the Top 100 this year after a knee injury that kept her out the first three months of the season, took a major step in her climb back to the top, reaching her first WTA quarterfinal of the year at the Kia Korea Open.
Kirilenko, the champion at the International-level event in 2008 and a wildcard into the draw this year, won a tight three-setter in her first match of the week against Donna Vekic, and she did it all over again in her second round match on Thursday, beating No.3 seed Klara Koukalova, 6-7(4), 6-4, 6-0.
After dropping the first set, Kirilenko stormed out to a 5-1 lead in the second set. Koukalova got the next three games to close to 5-4 and had double break point to even it up at 5-all, but Kirilenko won four straight points - and then six straight games - to polish off a runaway victory in the third.
It's the first time Kirilenko has won back-to-back matches at the WTA main draw level since Beijing last September, and her first WTA quarterfinal since Eastbourne last June. But it's no surprise she's broken those patterns here - she's had all kinds of success here in the past, not just winning the 2008 title but also reaching another final (2007) and another semifinal (2009). She's 16-6 in her career here.
"I've been here so many times," Kirilenko said. "The thing I like the most about the tournament is the people. They are all very nice. I have so many fans here. But I also love the conditions for practicing - they have so many courts for us. And the hotel is very nice. I just really love everything here."
And Kirilenko isn't worried about her ranking - she knows she just needs to keep playing.
"To be honest, because I had an injury for a while, my ranking went down," she said. "However it's not a problem for me. I already know if I start playing well again, my ranking will be going up again.
"It was obviously disappointing to be injured, and I really missed playing, but I had some rest and tried to enjoy my time away. Now I'm really practicing and trying hard to get back in my best shape."
Next up for Kirilenko is No.6 seed Kaia Kanepi, who rallied to beat Kristyna Pliskova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. Kirilenko has beaten Kanepi in all three previous meetings, though two were very close.
Gibbs, who is currently on the cusp of the Top 100 at No.101, reached her first WTA quarterfinal.