It may be winter in Europe, but Vera Zvonareva is the perfect girl for winter because (a) she doesn't have to bare much flesh to look stunning, and (b) didn't I say her form would pick up once she left those hot climates behind?
One year ago, before I added Bepa to my fanship, I was disappointed that she beat Maria Sharapova 7-6 (7/5) 6-2 in the semi-finals of Memphis (but pleased that she went on to win the final). But now I see that it was for the best, as Bepa had to endure a whole year without winning another WTA singles title while Maria has won six singles titles in that time including Wimbledon and the WTA Tour Championships.
This week, Bepa ended her drought by successfully defending her Memphis title without dropping a set in the whole tournament. It was her first attempt at defending a title (Bol was not held in 2004) and the third WTA singles title of her young career.
Bepa's title means so much to me - in a way, it means even more than Maria winning the Tier I at Tokyo, because it was hard to see where Bepa's next title was coming from after a disappointing start to 2005.
I want to highlight something Bepa said after winning her second-round match this week:
"I still feel like my game is improving. Sometimes I have to take a step backward to go forward.
I'm very happy with the way I'm playing right now."
These words are profound and uncommon. Which is why they sound like the words of a winner.
VERA ZVONAREVA  d. Michaela Paštiková, 6-3 6-1
Bepa opened her defence with an easy win over the girl who had taken Lindsay Davenport to three sets at the Australian Open. According to CEEFAX, the top seed "started strongly and did not let up against the Czech, easing to a 6-3 6-1 victory in quick time."
Bepa: "I'm striking the ball really well. In my groundstrokes, I'm giving the ball different direction. And my serve's improved and my returns are much better. But attacking the ball is an important part of the game. This tournament is indoors and it's hard court, so I will have to come in.
"I'm still getting back. I think it's the worst jetlag I've ever had. Of course, even when I played juniors, I never won a tournament where everything was easy, you know. Nothing was perfect last year but I think I was playing really good, and especially in the finals it was a great match.
"I think it's most important to be yourself on the court and have some personality. If you are just so tight and you are not letting your personality out on the court, you are not going to be able to play your best tennis and there's nothing special out there with that person. Each player is different and you have to show yourself."
VERA ZVONAREVA  d. Séverine Beltrame, 7-6 (7/0) 6-3
So she struggled quite a bit to beat a player ranked 97 places below her (Bepa is #11), particularly when she let a 4-1 lead in the first set become 4-4.
Beltrame was bothered by a left-hamstring strain for which she took an injury time-out at 4-1 in the first, and later pulled out of the doubles.
Bepa: "I was trying to rush too much in the first set. After being up 4-1, I found myself in a tie-break. I let her back into the match, but was able to recover my form in the second set.
"All matches are tough now, regardless of the final score. Women's tennis is at a very high level now. There are a lot of young players in the draw here, but I think age gives me the edge, even though I'm only 20. The younger ones definitely have the desire to win."
VERA ZVONAREVA  d. Katerina Bondarenko [WC], 7-5 6-0
Katerina Bondarenko (not to be confused with her sister Alyona, who was runner-up at Hyderabad a week ago) won the girls' singles title at Wimbledon 2004 - yet she is eight months older than Maria Sharapova!
The first set was a real rollercoaster, with Bepa letting a 5-3 lead become 5-5. The second set was more like you'd expect when the world #11 plays the world #305. Bepa lost only one point in the last three games!
Bepa: "I just got used to what she was doing. I wasn't giving her many chances... putting a lot of pressure on her. I think I played better today compared to the day before."
VERA ZVONAREVA  d. EVGENIA LINETSKAYA , 6-4 6-1
I wasn't expecting any more easy matches with Bepa in a semi-final line-up with Linetskaya (who beat her 6-4 6-2 at Pattaya City two weeks ago), Meghann Shaughnessy (who showed terrific form to reach the semis) and Nicole Vaidišová (an extremely dangerous player for the future, and perhaps even now at the age of 15), but this was sweet revenge!
Teletext (UK) described it thus: "Defending champion Vera Zvonareva stormed into the final with an impressive 6-4 6-1 victory over fellow Russian Evgenia Linetskaya."
Bepa: "It's important for me to reach the final because it will be the first time I will defend a title. I had to get my revenge also because she beat me a couple of weeks ago in Thailand. I'm happy with the way I've been playing this week and hope it continues tomorrow in the final."
VERA ZVONAREVA  d. MEGHANN SHAUGHNESSY , 7-6 (7/3) 6-2
I followed a live scoreboard on the Internet (the link was at http://www.wtatour.com/results/
), writing up my comments as the match unfolded.
Play started at 19:06 CST (25:06 GMT).
Shaugh 0-0: 40/0 -> 40/40, ad S, held
Bepa could have let that game go easily, but already it gets inside Shaughnessy's head that Bepa is a terrific fighter.
Zvonar 0-1: 0/30, 15/30, 15/40 (2 BPs), broken for 0-2
It's important for Bepa to get on the scoreboard as soon as she can. You never feel involved in a final until you've got that first game to your name.
Shaugh 2-0: held to love
Zvonar 0-3: 15/0, 15/15, 15/40 (2 BPs) -> 40/40, ad S (BP #3), Deuce #2, ad Z, held for 1-3
A very important game for Bepa indeed. I had a horrible feeling that if she went 0-4 down, she might not be taking up too much of my sleeping-time tonight!
But she's such a fighter, and has overcome slow starts in her previous two matches (Bondarenko 7-5 6-0, Linetskaya 6-4 6-1).
Shaugh 3/1: 30/0 -> 30/30, 30/40, broken for 3-2
That could be quite a big psychological blow against Shaughnessy. I remember when Bepa faced this 3-0 to 3-2 situation in reverse in the second set against Lindsay Davenport at Wimbledon 2004 - Bepa sat at the changeover with her head in her towel, crying really hard!
Zvonar 2-3: held to love for 3-3
Bepa confirms a huge momentum-shift in this first set. I no longer fear a quick defeat. Shaughnessy has one tough struggle ahead of her if she wants to pretend Bepa's title. Both girls have been in tremendous form this week.
Shaugh 3-3: 0/15, 15/15, 40/15, 40/30, held
Zvonar 3-4: held to love for 4-4
Since saving those three break-points when already 0-3 down, Bepa has held to love twice and Shaughnessy's the one struggling to hold serve.
Shaugh 4-4: 15/0, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), 40/40, ad S, Deuce #2, ad Z (BP #2), Deuce #3, ad S, held for 5-4
Bepa should be serving for the set now instead of serving to stay in it. She mustn't dwell on those two missed break-points; she must relive her previous two service-games.
Zvonar 4-5: held to love for 5-5
Good girl. It's never Shaughnessy who fights back in these games, is it? Bepa has won all the games in which she's been two points ahead, while Shaughnessy seems more liable to struggle when she
is two points ahead (particularly when she led 3-0 and 3-1).
Shaugh 5-5: held to love for 6-5
Zvonar 5-6: 40/0, 40/15, held
6-6 tiebreak: Shaugh 0/0; Zvonar 0/1, 1/1; Shaugh 2/1, 3/1; Zvonar 2/3, 3/3; Shaugh 3/4, 3/5; Zvonar 6/3 (3 SPs), Bepa won first set 7-6 (7/3) at 20:03.
Again, Bepa without problems once she went two points ahead - and she won six points in a row from 1/3! (five were errors by Shaughnessy, as I later learned).
"At 3/2 for Shaughnessy, Zvonareva hit an unstoppable backhand down the line to finish one of the longest rallies of the match." <http://www.rmkchampionships.com/
And now Bepa is one set up, with the advantage of serving first in the second!
I hope she wins the second set of course, but if she has to lose it, please let her do so by an even number of games to preserve the serving-order in the third!
Zvonar 0-0: 30/0, 30/15, 40/15, held
Shaugh 0-1: 0/15, 15/15, 15/30, 30/30, 40/30, held
An important hold for Shaughnessy. Bepa had a half-chance at 15/30 to break, and had she done so, I think we'd have seen "Vera Cruz" to the title!
Zvonar 1-1: held to love
Shaugh 1-2: 0/15, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 30/40 (BP), broken for 1-3
YEEAAAHHH!!! Bepa confirms her ascendancy. I sense she must be playing really well now (http://www.rmkchampionships.com/
later described Bepa as continuing to "pound her fierce groundstrokes"). If only I could be watching this rather than following a scoreboard.
Zvonar 3-1: 40/0, 40/15, 40/30, held for 4-1
That's the first time Bepa has had any kind of struggle on a lead today, but she came through - the Memphis title is as good as hers now!
Shaugh 1-4: 0/30 -> 30/30, 40/30, 40/40, ad S, Deuce #2, ad S, held
And that's the first time Bepa has lost a game in which she was two points ahead. She's still got a fight on her hands.
Zvonar 4-2: 0/15, 15/15, 30/15, 30/30, 40/30, held
Shaugh 2-5: 40/0 -> 40/40, ad S, Deuce #2, ad Z (Championship-point), Bepa won 7-6 (7/3) 6-2 at 20:40.
I want to scream at the top of my lungs, but it's 2:40am in England!
So the match ended the way it began - with a 40/0 lead for Shaughnessy becoming 40/40, and a fourth game-point for Shaughnessy, but this time Bepa broke! I call this "Alexandra Stevenson's syndrome", because Stevenson was twice broken after leading 40/0 against Daniela Hantuchová at Eastbourne 2003.
I later learned that Shaughnessy netted a forehand on the final point.
Bepa got 55% of first serves in, winning 78% of the points when she did so, and 69% of the points when she had to use her second serve (Shaughnessy 48%, 73%, 43%). Shaughnessy had eight aces and four double faults, Bepa two aces and no doubles. In fact Bepa hardly served a double fault all week, in stark contrast to her recent tournaments.
Bepa broke three times from six break-points, Shaughnessy once from 4 BPs (and remember, she had 3 BPs for 4-0 in the first set). Unfortunately there are no statistics for winners and unforced errors, but Bepa won 76-59 in points.
: "I was really happy to be back in the finals here. I wasn't really thinking about the pressure of being the defending champion, but I'm really happy to have won in here since this was the first time that I've been in this situation. In 90 percent of my matches I am the higher-ranked player. It just means I have to prove myself all the time.
"She started off really good, and she didn't really give me a chance to warm up and get in the match. She was playing really well and attacking my serve right away. It's always tough to say if you're going to break her, because if she serves four aces, what can you do?
"I was just trying to find my game. It took me some time to get my rhythm. I was able to get my game back and play the way I've been doing in the days before, and I was fine after that. Once I hit a couple of good shots, I was OK.
"This was one of the most important matches of my career because it was the first time I defended a title. It's funny though because I wasn't thinking about it all while I was out there on the court. To win two titles back-to-back is just a great experience. It means I played well, and with the level of play on the WTA Tour these days, that really means a lot.
"I love playing here in Memphis, and I hope to come back again and defend my title once more. It's a year away. It's hard to say. But I will come back here if I can."
: "I didn't serve well at all. And she played pretty well. When I'm playing well is when I'm intense and serving and looking for my forehand. Without that, it changes the whole momentum.
"It was a good week and I played a lot of good matches, but unfortunately, I couldn't do it today. I'm disappointed I didn't keep it together for the finals. I lost a little intensity. Hopefully I'll be able to take this experience through the rest of the hardcourt season."
Two reasons why Bepa will win the French Open
1. Iva Majoli had gone a year without winning a WTA singles title when she successfully defended her Essen 1996 title at Hanover in February 1997. She went on to win the French Open that year!
2. Maria Sharapova won her first three WTA singles titles at Tier III tournaments - nothing higher, nothing lower, exactly like Bepa - then won the next Grand Slam tournament she played!
2. Search Getty Images for "zvonareva"
Michaela Paštiková is quite cute, too.
Gotta love the one of Bepa biting her racket like a rabbit!
3. There are three lovely off-court photos of Bepa at http://www.wtatour.com/photogallery/
(select "Memphis"). I think she looks prettier than ever this week!
Last time I saw Vera she's waving me goodbye
With hurry-home drops on her cheek that trickled from her eye
Vera is only twenty years old, information please
Try to put me through to her in Memphis, Tennessee
[Chuck Berry, "Memphis"]
Dr. Andrew Broad
P.S. Those in the UK might want to check out Trans World Sport
on Channel 4 next Saturday, 07:00 - 08:00. They usually show a few points from Tier I/II finals. With Bepa having won a Tier III title, they just might show an animated picture of her if we're lucky. Trans World Sport
may also be televised in other countries.