Petrova, Hantuchova Bounced; Zvonareva, Bartoli Reach Auckland Final

Posted on January 6, 2006

AUCKLAND, New Zealand - Although the two ASB Classic semifinal matches were very different in nature, they both had the same result, in that top two seeds Nadia Petrova and Daniela Hantuchova were both knocked out by lower-seeded opponents at the $145,000 Tier IV hardcourt event.

In Friday's first semifinal, tenacious Russian Vera Zvonareva exhibited the kind of tennis that once had her ranked in the world's Top 10, decimating No.2 seed Daniela Hantuchova 62 62 in little over an hour to reach her seventh career Sony Ericsson WTA Tour singles final. Zvonareva, seeded No.8, dictated play from the baseline with her deep, forceful groundstrokes, benefiting from 30 unforced errors from her weary opponent, who was coming off a marathon, three-hour-plus quarterfinal victory from the day before.

"It looked comfortable from the side but I think it was a really tough match no matter what the scoreboard says," said Zvonareva, who will be playing in her first Tour singles final since capturing her third career title at Memphis in February of last year. The 21-year-old was ranked in the Top 10 (as high as No.9) throughout the second half of 2004 and early in 2005, but has since dropped all the way down to No.42 following a lengthy struggle with injury last season.

"The conditions were very tough and Vera just dealt with it much better," said Hantuchova, who during the match seemed bothered by the swirling winds. "I think if she plays like this there's no reason she can't get back to the Top 10. She's got a great game because there's not much that can really go wrong as she's very solid from both sides."

The second semifinal had all the makings of a contrasting, tight three-setter, but tournament favorite Petrova was forced to retire due to a left groin strain while trailing 2-1 in the third, sending No.6 seed Marion Bartoli into her career-first Tour singles final with a 36 64 21 victory.

"It's absolutely amazing to be in the final here," said Bartoli, a semifinalist in Auckland the last two years. "I cannot dream for a better result than this and when I came over and saw the draw I was like, 'oh my gosh just to reach the semifinal would be a very good result.'"

"It's not too bad but it could've been worse if I had continued to play," said Petrova, who was trying to reach her sixth career Tour singles final. She had also been taken to three sets in her only prior encounter with Bartoli, but was able to pull that one off at the Paris [Indoors] event in 2005.

Zvonareva and Bartoli have travelled markedly different paths in reaching the final. Zvonareva has barely broken a sweat, defeating fellow former Top 10 player Paola Suárez 62 63 in the first round, Korea's Yoon Jeong Cho 63 26 61 in the second and No.4 seed Maria Kirilenko 62 60 in the quarters before routing Hantuchova. Bartoli has had a tougher time, beating fellow Frenchwoman Emilie Loit 67(5) 63 61 in the opening round, talented American Laura Granville 36 62 62 in the second, and Germany's Julia Schruff 62 60 in the quarters before the aforementioned win over Petrova.

The head-to-head record firmly points to Zvonareva being the favorite on Saturday. The Russian has easily won all three of their prior meetings in straight sets, a 61 62 win on the red clay of Strasbourg in 2003, a 62 63 victory at the indoor hardcourt event in Linz in 2003, and finally another 62 63 victory in 2004 at Los Angeles, on outdoor hardcourts.

The doubles final will also be contested on Saturday, with top seeds Zvonareva and Elena Likhovtseva facing No.4 seeds Loit and Barbora Strycova for the title. The Russian pairing of Zvonareva and Likhovtseva ousted No.3 seeds and defending champions Shinobu Asagoe and Katarina Srebotnik 75 36 75 in a late match on Friday, while Loit and Strycova ousted Yulia Beygelzimer and Mervana Jugic-Salkic 63 63 earlier in the day.

Currently in its 21st year, the ASB Classic boasts an impressive list of former winners, including Leila Meskhi, Dominique Van Roost, Julie Halard-Decugis, Anna Smashnova, Eleni Daniilidou and Katarina Srebotnik. Former runners-up include Sabine Appelmans, Silvia Farina Elia, Cara Black and Suárez. The winner's cheque this year is $22,900, while the losing finalist pockets $12,345. (WTA)