Kleybanova wins Koser Tennis Challenge
Former world-ranked Russian continues comeback from Hodgkin's lymphoma
Lancaster New Era
May 19, 2013 22:14
By TIM GROSS
Natalie Pluskota lunged to her left to put a racket on a serve from Alisa Kleybanova in the first game of their second set Sunday on an indoor court at the Hempfield Rec Center. By the time Pluskota's return floated over the net, Kleybanova stood at the service line, ready to fire a forehand winner to the opposite corner.
Kleybanova swept the second set to defeat Pluskota, 6-3, 6-0, in the final match
of the Koser Jewelers USTA Pro Circuit Challenge, punctuating eight matches in eight days and the first leg of a comeback tour with the kind of tennis the former top-20 player wants to expect from herself moving forward.
"In the beginning of the tournament," Kleybanova said, "it was a little hard for me to put things together because I was a little too nervous sometimes, a little too much in a rush sometimes. I made my matches more difficult than they were supposed to be.
"Today, I'm happy that I didn't do that. I closed the points I needed to close. I won the games I needed to win
, so I didn't make it last too long. I finished it the way it's supposed to be."
Kleybanova, with only one appearance since 2011 due to a battle with Hodgkin's Lymphoma, put pressure on Pluskota early to take a 3-1 first-set lead.
"There were several times I hit an unbelievable shot," Pluskota said, "and she just came up with something way better. You can't do anything about that."
A four-time All-American at Tennesse playing her first pro final, Pluskota clapped her hand on her racket each time Kleybanova, a participant in all four Grand Slam events, impressed her with a winning volley.
"She's definitely at a different level," Pluskota said. "She's not unreachable, but it's a test to see where I stand with someone who's made it. I just have to live and learn."
Meanwhile, Kleybanova's aggressive style overwhelmed Pluskota's style of play.
"She tries to break your rhythm," Kleybanova said of the American. "She's the kind of player with a little bit of a men's-style game — a kick serve, a little slice, a one-handed backhand and everything. I knew that my game is too fast for her to be able to give me a lot of trouble when I make it work."
Kleybanova made it work, winning three of four games to close out the first set and preventing Pluskota from winning a single point against her serve in the second.
"She serves big," Pluskota said, "and that was the tough part, to be able to hit a return that she couldn't do anything with."
Against Pluskota's serve in the second set, Kleybanova went to deuce a combined 10 times, including twice for the match point.
"I felt like I was in control of the situation," Kleybanova said, "from the first point until the last point. I was moving a lot better, and I was putting everything back together. I was able to keep it up through the whole match, which was the most important thing for me."
If the most important part of the match was consistency, the most important part of the tournament came in Saturday's semifinals. Kleybanova battled back against Japan's Hiroko Kuwata, winning a 6-3, 4-6, 7-5 grind that tested her body and her resiliency.
"If I would win, 6-1, 6-1 through the whole tournament," Kleybanova said, "I wouldn't get that confidence and that feeling of something really complete
. I think I needed tough matches where I was struggling a little bit, and I was able to go through that."
Kleybanova's plans moving forward include returning to Russia for the rest of the month, finding tournaments to enter and participating in World Team Tennis in July.
In the Koser doubles final, Maria Fernanda Alvarez-Teran of Bolivia and American Keri Wong overcame a firsr-set defeat to knock off American Brooke Austin and Brooke Rischbieth of Australia, 2-6, 6-4, 10-5.
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