Nadia Petrova Closes on a High
By Bobby Chintapalli
Special for USA TODAY
Nadia Petrova is the only women's tennis player this year to leave her last singles and doubles tournaments with trophies, and on Sunday it showed.
Soon after the 30-year-old Russian ended a great season by beating former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki in Sunday's Qatar Airways Tournament of Champions final in Sofia, Bulgaria, she talked to USA TODAY Sports. As in really, really talked. Petrova, who can be talkative but also taciturn, started the interview downright voluble.
Asked to explain the year she's had -- among her best in 15 years on the WTA tour -- Petrova did. Without interruption for two and a half minutes.
She closed with this: "Today I just played perfect tennis. ... I'm very happy the way ended the season."
Petrova's best-known for an aggressive game and a huge serve, but she credited yesterday's win to several things. To serving well, yes. But also to moving Wozniacki around. And to keeping Wozniacki guessing with varied shot selection.
"I kept the momentum going from the beginning until the end -- I didn't take my foot off the gas," says Petrova.
Her weekend capped a year in which Petrova has won three singles titles ('s-Hertogenbosch, Tokyo, Sofia) and two doubles titles (Miami, WTA Championships).
How to explain the success? Petrova began with one person: Her coach.
"The turning point was that after being just with a hitting partner previous season I started working with Ricardo Sanchez," says Petrova. "He really sees my game well and knows exactly how I should be playing. He remembers the days when I was No. 3 in the world, so he had already a picture in his mind for me. We started working, and I guess the hard work is paying off."
She likes how he breaks things down for her before a match. And when things aren't going well during a match "he always seems to have an answer."
Sanchez started the year with Wozniacki. (The stint was short-lived.) That probably helped Sunday, but Petrova adds, "Ricardo is such an experienced coach he doesn't need actually to coach someone to know how the person plays. He's seen them already so many times, and his players played them already so many times. So he knows everyone perfectly."
Petrova has checked off both of her main to-dos this year. After starting the year ranked No. 29 she wanted to get back into the Top 20. She did: Petrova will end the year ranked No. 12.
Her other goal was shared by many others: To medal at the Olympics. This Petrova did with Maria Kirilenko, her countrywoman and primary 2012 doubles partner. The pair, who won a bronze medal, also won two other huge events this year -- Miami in March and the WTA Championships in Istanbul last month.
Petrova, who reached her career-high doubles ranking of No. 3 in 2005, is back in the doubles top five for the first time since then. Doubles success has helped her singles results.
"We both are good singles players, and we were able to transfer it into the doubles," Petrova says. "It's so much more fun because you have someone to communicate (with) and find the tactics to beat the opponents. It also helped us a lot in our singles game. It brings a lot of balance. And if you don't do well in singles at the tournament you still have doubles and it's great practice. It wasn't my concern rising up in the doubles ranking this year -- it just happened by itself."
The pair was the last of four teams to qualify for the WTA Championships. They ultimately beat the other contenders in a semifinal in Moscow to earn that last spot in Istanbul. "When we got there we were so excited and we won the title in doubles," says Petrova. "It gave me more positive emotions, and it kind of was a booster for Sofia."
But next year they'll play with other partners. Both will team up with veteran doubles specialists who are former doubles No. 1s. Kirilenko will play with Lisa Raymond, 39, and Petrova will play with Katarina Srebotnik, 31.
Petrova explains: "It's really hard after singles going and playing doubles. That's why I think it's better for us next year to focus on our singles, and when we're done with our singles matches we have partners full-time playing doubles. They're fresh, and they can help us out that way."
Russians and others
Now the No. 2 Russian in the rankings, Petrova said good things about the four other Russians in the top 50. There's this about the No. 1 Russian, Maria Sharapova: "She won French Open, the only Grand Slam she hasn't had. She showed again what she is made of."
Petrova noted that Kirilenko had one of her best seasons then continued: "And who else do we have? Pavlyuchenkova had a decent year. Makarova is getting more consistent and improving and showing that in the next couple of years she can break top 20 and be a dangerous player."
Asked about the year her latest opponent, Wozniacki, has had, Petrova paused. She seemed to consider if and how to reply. But reply she did: "I mean she's been No. 1 for two years -- this is a huge accomplishment. You know, a little slump can happen. But then she started picking up her game. She won Seoul and Moscow, and she got to the final here and she's back in top 10. And I'm sure she's going to do the right things in offseason to get stronger and try to regain her No. 1 spot."
So it's the offseason, and it's just in time for Petrova. When you consider both singles and doubles WTA main-draw matches this year, only Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci have played more. (Petrova played 57 singles matches and 61 doubles matches.)
First she'll take three weeks off, says Petrova: "My body got some beating this year. I need to rest, not just physically but mentally too."
Come December she'll start preparing for 2013. She looks forward to working with Sanchez on her conditioning and her game. She didn't start working with him until this year, so she didn't have his help during the last offseason. She hopes to make the most of their "four or five crucial weeks" and hopes we'll see "the old Nadia next season." The Nadia once ranked world No. 3.
This Nadia has two goals. The first is to get back into the Top 10. The second she reveals with a long sigh and a little optimism:
"And I'm having an eye on the big prize -- hopefully one of the Slams -- so that I can really say my career is perfect."