Bondarenko Breaks Title Duck at WTA Birmingham

Posted on June 15, 2008

BIRMINGHAM, UK -- Before this week, Kateryna Bondarenko had an 0-6 record in quarterfinals. And facing a player in that round who had just notched her first Top 10 win earlier in the week, many would have guessed that trend to continue. But she wasn't intimidated, and after prevailing in that match in straight sets she went all the way to the title, capturing the DFS Classic with a riveting championship win over newcomer Yanina Wickmayer on Sunday.

Bondarenko played her first main draws on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in 2003 and had since been to quarterfinals twice in 2005 (Memphis, Tashkent), once in 2006 (Tashkent), twice in 2007 (Doha, Stuttgart) and once earlier this year (Paris [Indoors]). After a pair of easy victories in the first and second round here, Bondarenko -- the No.12 seed at the Tier III event -- was pushed to the limit in the third round but reached her seventh career quarterfinal anyway with a 46 64 75 win against Melinda Czink.

Against Petra Cetkovska things didn't look so great. Not only did she fall behind 4-2 in the first set, but Cetkovska has really been on a roll, reaching her first Grand Slam fourth round at Roland Garros and taking out this event's top seed, Marion Bartoli, earlier in the week. But after a slow start Bondarenko's power game kicked into gear, taking her to a 76(3) 62 victory. In her first career semifinal she crushed Marina Erakovic, 63 62; Erakovic had taken out sister Alona, the No.5 seed this week, a day before in the quarterfinals.

On the other half of the draw and playing in just her fourth career main draw on the Tour (all this year and her best previous showing being the second round of Antwerp), Wickmayer was blazing a trail of her own, taking out a pair of seeds -- Casey Dellacqua and Michaella Krajicek, the No.11 and No.8 seeds, respectively -- as well as the last Brit standing, Melanie South -- en route to her first Tour final.

The final, which lasted two hours and 48 minutes, went to Bondarenko in a third set tie-break, 76(7) 36 76(4). The two held tightly to their service games in the first set, with four of four break points slipping by; the tie-break was a see-saw affair with Bondarenko going up 6-4, Wickmayer going up 7-6, then Bondarenko eventually closing it out, 9-7. Wickmayer earned a routine second set win and, after a few exchanges of breaks early on, the match reverted to a first set pattern again, with six straight holds leading to the deciding tie-break, where the more experienced Ukrainian prevailed.

"It feels great -- finally I have my own title!" said Bondarenko, who was being cheered on from the sidelines by Alona. "I didn't expect my first one to come on grass. In the important points against Yanina I was just trying to make as few mistakes as possible. I was trying to move her around but she was still running very well, despite her injury. I'm hoping to do well at Wimbledon now, but I'm very focused on my next tournament in 's-Hertogenbosch."

"I think I played well; even though my knee hurt a lot, I kept on fighting," said Wickmayer, who injured her right knee badly in the second set but continued the match, much to the delight and endearment of the crowd. "I'm not a quitter. I've never had a knee injury and we'll have to look at it now and see what it is, but I'm hoping to still play in 's-Hertogenbosch and of course Wimbledon. My movement is really important for my game, so it's tough to play without it."

Bondarenko's biggest junior achievement also came on grass, as she won the Wimbledon girls' singles title in 2004 (beating Shahar Peer in the quarterfinals, Krajicek in the semifinals and Ana Ivanovic in the final).

Wickmayer was Belgium's No.2 just a few weeks ago when Justine Henin was still No.1 in the world; upon Henin taking immediate retirement and removing herself from the rankings, Wickmayer assumed the Belgian No.1 spot.

Just six of the 16 seeds that started out this week made it to their projected third round berths, and only three of them made it to the quarterfinals, namely the Bondarenko sisters and No.3 seed Nicole Vaidisova (who lost in that round to Bethanie Mattek). It was a typical first week on a new surface, as many of the favorites couldn't find their bearings just yet on the slick, low-bouncing surface.

Cara Black and Liezel Huber won their fourth Tour doubles title of the year following the singles final, taking out first-time pairing Severine Bremond and Virginia Ruano Pascual in just 58 minutes, 62 61. They are now 4-2 in finals this season, also winning crowns at Antwerp, Dubai and Berlin; they are also an impressive 16-8 lifetime in finals, which includes 3-0 at majors.
-- Sony Ericsson WTA Tour