LONDON, Great Britain - Seven years after Vera Zvonareva played the Wimbledon final, four years after her last main draw appearance in SW19, two years after giving birth to daughter Evelina and one year after tentatively embarking on a low-key comeback, the Russian has returned to the site of one of her greatest professional results - qualifying for the 2018 main draw with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Caroline Dolehide.
Zvonareva, who lost the 2011 final to Serena Williams, had played just one match since being forced to retire injured at 5-5 in the deciding set to Danielle Lao in an ITF $60,000 event in Quanzhou, China, in April - and had been unable to contest Roland Garros qualifying. Yet the 33-year-old did not drop a set in three matches this week, and her smooth groundstrokes and indefatigable retrieving kept her American opponent at bay today.
Dolehide's dreams of a Wimbledon debut were dashed further when she turned her ankle in the second set - but, having lost in the qualifying rounds of last year's US Open and the Australian Open in January, Zvonareva was overjoyed to make the first Slam main draw of her comeback. "I always enjoyed playing at Wimbledon - and now I get another chance, it's great," the World No.141 smiled afterwards.
The Wimbledon qualifying rounds began on Tuesday with a record three former finalists in the draw - and joining Zvonareva in a successful preliminary campaign was World No.191 Eugenie Bouchard, who did not drop serve once en route to a 6-3, 6-2 defeat of No.2 seed Mariana Duque-Mariño. It is the first time the Canadian, who was runner-up in 2014 to Petra Kvitova, has won three consecutive matches since her Madrid quarterfinal run in May 2017.
For the second year in a row in Roehampton, the reigning girls' champion has made the most of a qualifying wildcard. Last year, Anastasia Potapova stormed through to make her main draw debut - and this year, 18-year-old Claire Liu sealed her spot in a maiden Wimbledon main draw with a 6-4, 6-3 defeat of No.5 seed and compatriot Nicole Gibbs. It is the second time that the American has come through Slam qualifying after being granted a wildcard, following last year's US Open. Ranked No.238, Liu has begun to make inroads on to the main WTA Tour this year, winning her first main draw matches in Miami and Charleston.
For 21-year-olds Sara Sorribes Tormo and Antonia Lottner, maintaining their grass-court form proved key to their qualifying success. Two weeks ago, Sorribes Tormo scored the best grass result of her career with a run to the Manchester ITF $100,000 final, losing out to Ons Jabeur - but the Spaniard picked up where she left off this week. In today's final round, the No.3 seed ensured that teenage prodigy Marta Kostyuk would not be celebrating her 16th birthday with a victory; having only squeaked past Kristie Ahn in a 9-7 decider late yesterday, the Ukrainian was unable to overcome Sorribes Tormo's defence and touch, falling 7-5, 7-6(5).
Lottner, meanwhile, has turned around a lean season on grass. Coming into this month with just a 7-12 win-loss record, the German has now come through qualifying at each grass tournament she has played. In 's-Hertogenbosch, Lottner went on to reach her maiden WTA quarterfinal, defeating Elise Mertens en route; in Mallorca, she also won a round in the main draw. Her 6-3, 7-6(5) victory over Bianca Andreescu today extends her grass record this year to 10-2.
Elsewhere, Russia's oft-injured Vitalia Diatchenko sealed a return to Grand Slam territory for the first time since the 2016 US Open with a 6-2, 6-2 win over compatriot 2015 junior champion Sofya Zhuk; while former World No.23 Mona Barthel, relegated to the qualifying rounds for the first time since the 2017 Australian Open, navigated past Jamie Loeb 7-5, 6-1.
The resurgent former World No.26 Alexandra Dulgheru, who reached the third round of Wimbledon on her 2010 debut but who has been afflicted by knee injuries for several years, ended the No.1 seed Tamara Zidansek's hopes of making her Grand Slam debut with a 5-7, 7-6(4), 6-0 comeback win. However, two successful debutantes this year will be Dulgheru's Romanian compatriot Elena-Gabriela Ruse and the Czech Republic's Barbora Stefkova. The 20-year-old Ruse, also making her Slam qualifying debut, had come back from a 0-4 final set deficit in the second round to beat Arina Rodionova - but had a simpler time against Barbara Haas, sailing into the main draw at the first time of asking 6-0, 7-5.
Meanwhile, World No.715 Stefkova, competing with a protected ranking after being forced to miss eight months in 2017 with injuries, fought through her third three-setter of the week to overcome Conny Perrin 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. In the previous two rounds, Stefkova had also been taken to three sets by 15-year-old British wildcard Emma Raducanu and 's-Hertogenbosch quarterfinalist Veronika Kudermetova.
Rounding out this year's qualifiers were No.14 seed Viktoriya Tomova, who defeated Anna Kalinskaya 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3, and No.9 seed Evgeniya Rodina, the second mother to win through the preliminary rounds. The 29-year-old's 6-2, 6-4 win over Japan's Mayo Hibi and her stylish one-handed backhand takes the total of mothers in the main draw to six as Rodina and Zvonareva join Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Tatjana Maria and Kateryna Bondarenko.