With her adoring home crowd willing her to victory, chanting her name, “Tsveti! Tsveti!”, Bulgarian No.1 Tsvetana Pironkova won a two-hour, 41-minute marathon in her first match of the Qatar Airways Tournament Of Champions Sofia on Tuesday night, and against one of her nemeses, too, conquering China’s Zheng Jie for the first time in three tries, 2-6 6-4 7-6(4).
Having lost both of their previous meetings in straight sets, things looked headed the same way this time as the No.6-seeded Zheng cruised through the first set and was two games from victory at 62 44; but the No.8-seeded Pironkova started finding the range on her serve and massive backhand from there, reeling off five games to take the set and build a 3-0 lead in the third.
Zheng would eventually close that gap, grinding from 0-3 and later 3-5 to go up 6-5 in the third, but Pironkova held serve and held on in the tie-break to win.
“That was probably the most emotional win in my career. I’ve never played in front of such a crowd,” Pironkova said. “I just want to thank everyone who came out today, because I don’t think I could have won this match without them.
“In the beginning I was very nervous. Nothing was working the way I wanted it to. I was just too tight. But after the first set and a few games in the second, I started to relax and play the way I wanted to. I think my serve was working well and helped me a lot – also my backhand, my movement, and my forehand too.
“Everything started working very well for me. I’m very happy!”
This was the only match of Group Sredets to take the court on Tuesday, with Pironkova now 1-0 in the group and Zheng 0-1. Zheng talked about the marathon match and the inspiring crowd afterwards in her post-match press conference.
“I started great in the first set, but then after the second set my timing wasn’t as good. I had to be more aggressive,” Zheng said. “After I was down 3-0 in the third set I started moving her around more, and I was coming back. I was close at 6-5 with her serving 15-30 – I was two points away. But this is tennis.”
“I still think it was a great match, and the crowd here was great, too. I think the fans gave Pironkova more power so she could come back.”
Two more matches from Group Sredets take the court on Wednesday, Zheng playing Nadia Petrova and Pironkova taking on Maria Kirilenko.