Tennis: Zvonareva zips past all challengers at Challenger event
Monday, April 15, 2002
By TOM RIFE, email@example.com
If she goes on to tennis stardom, those who turned out Sunday at The Club at Sterling Oaks surely will remember the days of old.
"We knew her when," they will say of Vera Zvonareva, who in the 55-minute-long singles final of the $50,000 USTA Women's Challenger, convinced about 500 onlookers — and Canada's Maureen Drake — that her game is more than good.
It's good enough to take her a long way.
Serving with authority and painting the lines with razor-sharp accuracy, the unseeded 17-year-old Russian pounded her way to a 6-1, 6-3 victory over the fourth-seeded Drake.
It was Zvonareva's first tournament title on the USTA Professional Circuit and she earned a check for $7,700.
The aggressive, blonde teen-ager, ranked No. 3 in the world among junior players and No. 275 among women professionals, was never seriously threatened by the 31-year-old who went into the finale ranked No. 123 worldwide.
A 13-year veteran of the pro ranks and once ranked as high as No. 47, Drake was not able to rattle her opponent and afterwards, agreed that Zvonareva may have a promising career ahead of her.
"She can be pretty good," the Toronto resident said. "They have a lot of great Russian players. It's a big country and a lot of people live there. There are bound to be a few good ones coming from there. She's definitely going to be a good player. We'll see what happens. But yeah, she's definitely got a lot of potential."
Drake was unable to hold serve in the opening set that lasted just 23 minutes.
"Can this be any worse?" Drake said under her breath midway through the last game of the first set.
As the match went on, even Zvonareva, who had beaten Drake in a previous three-setter, would realize that in addition to being talented, it also helps to have luck on your side.
Zvonareva was able to hold serve in the opening game of the second set thanks in large part to a pair of returns that tipped the top of the net and dropped lamely into play on Drake's side.
As if those two net cords weren't enough, a third one was the deciding point in the second game as the Russian broke Drake again to establish a 2-0 margin.
"I was lucky today, there is no question about it," Zvonareva admitted. "But I got off to a good start and played well. I had a really good week here."
Drake did get on track temporarily, winning the next three games to seize a 3-2 edge. But her comeback bid lacked in overall spunk and playing from behind just didn't fit Drake's style.
The match ended in unceremonious fashion when Drake was called for a foot fault.
"It was a tough day today," said Drake. "I got off to a slow start and I make a lot of unforced errors. Unfortunately, that's how it goes sometimes. The second set I gathered myself together a bit better. But I just wasn't able to keep my momentum going."
Playing the USTA Professional Circuit in an attempt to improve her world rankings and prolong her career, Drake earned $4,200 as the runner-up.
Sunday's festivities also included the doubles final. The No. 1-seeded team of Riki Hiraki and Nana Miyagi, both of Japan, was extended to three sets in a 7-5, 4-6, 7-5 decision over Zvonareva and her Argentinian doubles partner, Gisella Dulko.
Sterling Oaks tennis director Bill Beverly said he was pleased with the way things turned out in the club's second attempt at staging the tournament. The 2001 event was plagued by mismanagement and financial setbacks that proved costly.
But with the backing of Crosswinds, the development's new owners who poured some $60,000 into the tournament, the 2002 project came off with only minor hitches. The United States Tennis Association provided about $40,000 in backing as well.
The charity endeavor generated in excess of $3,000 for Habitat for Humanity of Collier County, according to Sterling Oaks General Manager Sam Speechly.