One of the more popular pastimes among tennis fans is playing “what if.” What if Monica Seles hadn’t been stabbed? What if Bjorn Borg didn’t retire at age 26? What if Serena Williams had decided to go through a McDonald’s drive-through instead if visiting the “broken glass” restaurant and hurting her foot a few weeks ago?
In looking forward to the 2010 Pilot Pen Women’s Final, several “what if” angles come to mind. What if the weather in Montreal last week was sunny and dry, and Caroline Wozniacki hadn’t been forced to play her semifinal and final Rogers Cup matches on Monday of this week? What if Ana Ivanovic hadn’t rolled her ankle in Cincinnati two weeks ago, opening up a spot in the Pilot Pen draw for another wildcard, Nadia Petrova? What if Varvara Lepchenko had held her nerve when leading Petrova ,6-1, 5-2 in the First Round of the Pilot Pen? (Spare a thought for Lepchenko, who ended her week by losing her second round U.S. Open qualifying match.) Such is the merry-go-round of professional tennis, which is why “what if” can be such an entertaining activity.
There are no definite answers to the “what if” game, and results will ultimately be all that matters. Seles ends her career with nine Grand Slam titles, Borg ends his with 11, and Serena remains at 13 until her foot heals. And, as Wozniacki and Petrova took the court for the Women’s Singles Final, all of the circumstances framed earlier in the week were brushed away, and new scenarios were created.
Nadia Petrova def. Maria Kirilenko 2-6, 6-2, 6-2
In four previous appearances at the Pilot Pen, Nadia Petrova won a grand total of one match. It appeared she was going to continue her losing ways in her opening round match this year as she fell behind Qualifier Varvara Lepchenko, 1-6, 2-5. But Petrova escaped near catastrophe in that match, and hasn't looked back. She dropped only five games against former doubles partner Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the second round, and dominated No. 2 seed Samantha Stosur in their quarterfinal match yesterday, losing just three games.
The veteran Russian, 28, faced her younger compatriot Maria Kirilenko Friday afternoon in the first women's Semifinal. Unfortunately for Petrova, she reverted to past form in the opening set. She served under 50%, including three double faults, and won less than half of her service points. Kirilenko played a solid first set, maintaining her form from the earlier rounds. Hitting accurate groundstrokes, Kirilenko pinned Petrova deep in the court and let her opponent make the errors. On the strength of two service breaks, Kirilenko closed out the first set, 6-2.
Unluckily, the match turned on an injury to Kirilenko. After Petrova broke Kirilenko's serve to take a 2-1 lead in the second set, Kirilenko called the trainer to the court. Kirilenko had been stretching her back between points, and it was beginning to affect her movement. Petrova later acknowledged that the injury time out by Kirilenko allowed her to regain her focus. Sensing that Kirilenko was hurting, Petrova focused on making her run. In the sixth game, Nadia fought off the only break point she faced, and evened the match at one set-all by winning eleven of the final fourteen points of the set.
Maria Kirilenko def. Dinara Safina, 6-3, 6-3
This Quarterfinal was a rematch of the players' 2010 Australian Open fourth round match in January. At that time, Dinara Safina was ranked No. 2 in the world but struggling with a back injury, which forced her to retire while leading 5-4 in the opening set. Since that time, it has been a season wrought with struggles for Safina. She was off the tour for three months before returning in April, but has won only five matches between then and the start of the Pilot Pen, and was forced to skip Wimbledon after aggravating the injury . As a result, the 24-year-old's ranking has dropped from No. 2 to No. 70.
In the meantime, Maria Kirilenko has experienced a career resurgence from a dismal 2009 season. Once a regular resident among the world's Top 30, Kirilenko had dropped outside of the top sixty in 2009. But with upsets over Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open, and Svetlana Kuznetsova at both Rome and the French Open, Kirilenko has rebuilt her ranking to No. 25.
In their match at New Haven, the two Russians played evenly through the first part of the opening set, when Safina requested to confer with her coach, Gaston Etlis, during the changeover at 3-4. The coaching didn't help, as Safina fell behind in her next service game. Facing break point, she hit a net cord forehand that dribbled back over her side of the net, giving Kirilenko a 5-3 edge. Kirilenko took full advantage, and held serve to take the first set, 6-3.