Hantuchova Earns Second Indian Wells Title

Posted on March 18, 2007

INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - In 2002, a teen-aged Daniela Hantuchova came out of relative obscurity in Indian Wells, capturing her first career title at the Pacific Life Open. How ironic that a five year title drought has now come to an end in that very desert; on Saturday, the Slovak, now 23, downed Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets for her second career title, capping an incredibly popular return to the winner's circle.

Hantuchova, seeded No.14 at the Tier I event, was in solid form all fortnight, and things were no different on Saturday; her penetrating groundstrokes were on target, the serve was impeccable, and she even mixed in some drop shots in a 63 64 win, just her third in eight meetings with Kuznetsova, who was the No.2 seed.

Hantuchova's performance was calm yet confident and seemingly nerveless, reminiscent of her championship victory at the event exactly five years ago.

"I had exactly the same feeling I had against Martina in 2002. I knew I was going to enjoy myself out there and not for one second I didn't believe in myself. I was just so confident from the first point, I didn't really think about the score. I went out there, tried to play my game and just enjoyed every moment on the court."

The championship duel featured two flashy, aggressive players playing at a high level, and the critical difference came on the most critical points. Hantuchova prevailed on three of four break points, while Kuznetsova was one for two.

"To beat her today, I had to play the key moments better than I did, and force a bit more than I did in the first set," said Kuznetsova, who gave away the critical breaks in the fourth game of the first set and the fifth game of the second. "When she was on a roll it was pretty hard to stop her. She was playing very well."

For Hantuchova, the 2007 Pacific Life Open victory marks her coming full circle, from one of the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour's brightest up-and-comers five years ago to one of its former Top 10 players, and now back to one of its brightest prospects. A former No.5, the Slovak moves from No.18 to No.12 with the title.

"People have been saying that I haven't won a tournament since 2002 but if I had the choice, I'd much rather pick this one than having to win little tournaments," Hantuchova said. "There is something special about this place that I love so much. I don't know what it is. I can't describe it. But if I could have this feeling all the time, I think I'd have a few more titles behind me.

"I think all the best things in life are worth waiting for and all the hard work and everything I had to go through makes the victory that much sweeter."

And during the title-less five years, the love for the sport never wavered.

"There was never a doubt that I wanted to do this. This is what I chose ever since I was a little kid. Even though there were some tough times I still enjoy the game of tennis. That's something I've never lost; I never thought about not loving it."

But it's not as though this was the same player that won the title as an 18-year-old; this was a more patient, more accepting, and, in light of the evolution of the sport over the years, much better player. Hantuchova acknowledged how things are different now than in 2002, where she upset Hingis for the title.

"The first one was so much easier, because I had nothing to lose. No one really knew my game. I was just young and swinging around, everything was going in and there was no pressure. Now everyone knows how I play. But the final was the same. I wasn't nervous and was just playing my game."

Kuznetsova also emerges with a significant jump in the rankings. On Monday she will rise from No.4 to No.3, making her the fourth Russian, after Anastasia Myskina, Maria Sharapova and Nadia Petrova, to crack the Top 3. With her title defense in Miami next week, Indian Wells has given her a much-needed boost.

"To not make this final would make me feel very low. At least I made it. But still I have to play next week and I'm going to face top players there, and it's going to be very important. I'm going to have a rest and improve my mistakes."

The two finalists were not the only players to make the headlines in the desert. Many top players lost in a fourth round exodus, with Sharapova, Hingis, Nadia Petrova, Jelena Jankovic and Anna Chakvetadze all falling on a manic Monday; Sybille Bammer snuck into the seedings list at No.33 upon Elena Dementieva's withdrawal then made a shock run to her first Tier I semifinal; Li Na flew the flag for China with a semifinal run as well; and former phenom Mirjana Lucic played a main draw for the first time in four years, winning a match before dropping a tight one to Chakvetadze.

But Hantuchova's Cinderella run stole the show, and when questioned about potentially rising to the top ranking, the newfound belief was evident.

"I'm starting to feel that slowly. I have people around me always believing that and telling me that, but slowly I'm starting to believe it, too. Especially winning a tournament like this really proves I can play with anyone, as long as I do the right things and play my game. It's definitely, something that's inside me."

The doubles final will take the court Sunday, pitting top-seeded duo Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur against No.5 seeds Chan Yung-Jan and Chuang Chia-Jung. (WTA)