By Brodie Elgin
(August 10, 2013) TORONTO – Having already defeated two former world number ones and the 2012 Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, the task would not get any easier for Sorana Cirstea in the semifinals as she would be forced to take on 2012 Roland Garros champion and defending Rogers Cup finalist Li Na.
“Everyone knows that I start a little bit slow,” Cirstea said on Thursday. “I think if you looked at the matches from last year, I’m sure I had even more rounds where I came from a set behind. But this year I’ve been trying to change a little bit, and for me to actually start better from the beginning and try to get ahead.” While the Romanian dropped the first set to Caroline Wozniacki and Petra Kvitova, she had no trouble starting against Li Na in their semifinal match in Toronto Saturday afternoon.
Cirstea quickly found ways to punch weak responses into the corners for winners and was dominating on serve, dropping just four points and not facing a break point all set. Li, on the other hand, struggled to find a rhythm early. She was particularly bothered by shots in the middle of the court, where she often failed to set her feet in time, or fired wide as she tried to create angles on her forehand. “I think today she was [playing] a little bit different. Today she was play sometime like topspin. Sometimes I was feeling she couldn’t hit a winner, but the ball [would come back] as a winner,” Li said smiling. “She’s got a lot of confidence right now.”
In a blistering 21 minutes, Cirstea took the first set 6-1. “I would have said I am a slow starter, but as I have proved this week, things are changing,” said a smiling Cirstea after the match.
Both players called down their coaches. Li Na admitted she didn’t exactly take much of her husband’s advice. “I offer him to come to the court. I never listen [to] what he says,” she joked. “Like, left in, right out, you know.” She also confirmed coach Carlos Rodriguez would be joining her in Cincinnati.
Unsurprisingly, the streaky Li raised her game and managed to reach deuce on her first return game. Eventually serving for the second set at 5-3, Li was broken twice and was forced to try to break Cirstea, who served for the match at 6-5. After blowing two match points and being broken, it would have been easy for the Romanian to get down on herself. “Once I lost that game, I was fine. I was like, “okay, let’s try and get this tiebreak.”" She fought back in the tiebreak from a 1-4 deficit, and eventually won on her third match point via a Li double fault, taking the match and advancing to the final 6-1, 7-6(5). “I think that’s another big change for me, because maybe before I would get down on myself.”
Despite being ranked in the top 30 for some time, this is just Cirstea’s third career WTA final and her first since winning the now defunct 2008 Tashkent Open. Cirstea acknowledged that she wouldn’t be thinking about the final today, but her smile indicated she might feel a few nerves Sunday morning. “I’m still trying to enjoy this victory, because it’s a good one for me. When I’m going to wake up tomorrow, I’m going to start worrying about the final.”
Regardless of Sunday’s result, this is surely the greatest week of Cirstea‘s career. “This is probably the biggest tournament so far, but I think it’s the start of something good. Everything is based on hard work. Everyone can see that I have been doing some great steps in the right direction.” Cirstea continued to give glowing credit to both of her coaches, particularly Darren Cahill’s inspiring pep talks. “I have been working with Darren for six years, and I was the first girl that he ever coached coming into the Adidas player development team. He’s amazing. Both of these victories are his in a way.”
Brodie Elgin is the writer of mindtheracket.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at @MindTheRacket. He is covering the Rogers Cup in Toronto for Tennis Panorama News, follow @TennisNewsTPN for updates.