US Open: Bulgarian Tennis Star Tsveti Pironkova Beats Vekic
Tsvetana Pironkova’s incredible comeback run at the 2020 US Open continued unabated on Saturday, as the Bulgarian zipped past No.18 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia, 6-4, 6-1, to reach the fourth round of the event for the second time in her career.
"It feels great," Pironkova told the media, after her third straight-set win of the event. "It feels amazing. Of course, unexpected. But just super happy."
What makes the accomplishment so stunning is that this is Pironkova’s first professional event of any stripe since her most recent match at 2017 Wimbledon. The 2010 Wimbledon semifinalist was off the tour for more than three years while raising her son Alexander, who was born in April of 2018.
"It feels the same to me, it feels normal to me," Pironkova stated about returning to the tour. "I've been doing that for more than 15 years. I just had three years' break. That's kind of how I grew up, what I have been doing for a long, long time. You cannot just forget it like that. It just doesn't happen that way, I guess."
After an absence of over three years, Pironkova came into the event unranked, using her special ranking after maternity leave to enter the main draw. Her decision has paid off, as she has won two straight matches against Top 25 opposition, following up her second-round win over No.10 seed Garbine Muguruza with the breezy 63-minute victory over Vekic.
"Having this opportunity of the special ranking gives you more motivation, as well, because you're not starting from scratch, as we can see," said Pironkova. "At one point I was like, I do not want to miss that opportunity, I'm going to start training, I'm going to do everything I can, and it's going to be different this time because, first and before all, I kind of enjoy it because tennis is before all a game. It's interesting, exciting, and super cool game that you can have a lot of fun playing."
The Bulgarian came into the event undefeated against Vekic, having won their three previous meetings, which all took place prior to 2017. Pironkova continued her dominance in their rivalry, converting all four of the break points she held, and winning nearly half of the points when Vekic was serving.
Vekic, a US Open quarterfinalist last season, was undone after losing a close first set, firing 16 unforced errors, including six double faults, in the second set. Pironkova, by contrast, had just two unforced errors during that set.
"It was a tough match, I would say, even though the score does not suggest it that much," said Pironkova. "The first set was really, really close, especially around 4-4. It was a matter of just a couple of points really. I'm really glad that I got to hold on, to take that set. Then in the second set, there were just a few moments that were important, as well. I was just keeping persistent, and that kind of paid off."
Two love holds kicked off the match, but things would get much more complicated immediately after that start, as Vekic had to serve her way out of a protracted game to hold for 2-1, while Pironkova needed to save a break point to match the Croat for 2-2.
Errors began to creep into the Vekic game as she fell behind a break for 4-3, but the seeded player regained control in the following game as she reclaimed level footing at 4-4. In the next game, though, the double faults by Vekic started to rear their head, as two in a row showed up to give Pironkova break point. A long forehand by Vekic ceded the 5-4 lead back to the Bulgarian.
Serving for the set, Pironkova smoothly fired two service winners to kick off the game, en route to double set point. On her first chance, Pironkova was rewarded with a long miscue by Vekic, and the unranked mother was a set away from the second week of a Grand Slam event for the first time since her quarterfinal run at 2016 Roland Garros.
That set, as it turned out, came easily for Pironkova. After a hold by Vekic to start the set, Pironkova reeled off six straight games, using pinpoint groundstrokes to power through points, while Vekic continued to struggle with avoiding errors.
Two double faults at 1-1 and three more at 3-1 put Vekic in a dire situation, as she quickly fell behind 4-1. A backhand winner to hold for 5-1 led Pironkova to match game, and on her first match point, a deep forehand helped set up a winner down the line to close out the match and keep her magical fortnight alive.
Pironkova now finds herself into the US Open round of 16 for the first time since 2012, having not dropped a set in her first three matches. Her next opponent will be the winner of Saturday night’s Arthur Ashe Stadium showdown between No.7 seed Madison Keys of the United States and Alize Cornet of France.
"Both opponents, Alize and Madison, are amazing players," said Pironkova. "I have played against them both. Alize is a big fighter. She's always fighting until the last point. Madison has big shots, big serve, big forehand. It will be a challenge no matter which one of them it will be."/WTATennis.com
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