By Dave Gertler
(January 12, 2015) SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – Tsvetana Pironkova‘s endearing and heroic run of 12 straight wins at the Apia International in Sydney might finally be cut short on Tuesday by the big game of the USA’s Madison Keys. The Bulgarian defending champion yesterday won an unlikely battle against Indian Wells champion Flavia Pennetta to advance to the second round of the main draw. Then again, her win over Pennetta is merely one of four top-12 wins the now-ranked No. 67 Pironkova has enjoyed in Sydney the last two years.
“I think I played a great match today,” said Pironkova of her 6-3, 7-6 win over the Italian, “I felt very good on court. I think we both did. It was a very entertaining match for the spectators. Definitely hard. I’m glad I could finish it only in two sets.” Pennetta was starting to find her range in the second set, battling from a break down to force the tie-break, at which point Pironkova’s air of Sydney invincibility took over again.
“Well, I obviously love it,” said Pironkova, 27, whose first and only career WTA title is last year’s Apia International. “I have very nice memories from last year. I like the surface very much. I like the people around here. I like the city, which I think it’s important for every player to enjoy the whole experience. So I am, and I feel very, very good here.”
Due to her 2014 Apia International championship points being stripped at the beginning of this week, Pironkova ranking has dropped a staggering 30 spots to No.67, yet she has still managed to spin into a positive the fact that as defending champ she was declined a wildcard into the main draw this year. Pironkova said, “That was past. You know, once I came to the tournament, I had a different mindset. I was like, OK, you’re playing quallies. Just go out on the court and forget about what’s happening. Obviously you’re not getting a wildcard. Get over it and try your best. And that’s what I’m doing.”
While tactics, craftiness and overall tennis smarts are how Pironkova separates herself from most opponents, she will have to find a new level to beat her next opponent Madison Keys. Keys was demonstrative in her first-round win over Svetlana Kuznetsova on the main court, Ken Rosewall Arena on Sunday and will be well-rested after a day off to face an opponent who has played four matches in as many days here in Sydney.
Finding out for the first time in the media conference who her next opponent was, Pironkova said, “I didn’t know I play against her. Very strong opponent. I think she’s very good right now, in good form, and one of the players to look out for. So, you know, I’m just going to go out there and do my best, and hopefully I’m going to win.”
The two wildcards in the women’s draw were given to Australian local hopes Jarmila Gajdosova and Daria Gavrilova, who both – like Pironkova – scored upset wins in their first-round matches. Journey-woman Gajdosova’s win over world No.12 Andrea Petkovic was her highest-ranked win since 2011. In an all-Slovak battle today of sorts – Gajdosova was born and spent her formative years in Slovakia – she will take on world No.11 Dominika Cibulkova on Grandstand Court, one of many standout matches scheduled for today at Olympic Park Tennis Centre. Gavrilova’s win over Swiss Belinda Bencic was also standout, her first win over a top 20 player since 2012.
The Apia International’s Tuesday order of play is full of drawcards, and reads almost like a grand slam middle Saturday, perhaps minus the top-10 men’s players. Headlining action on Ken Rosewall Arena will be Juan Martin Del Potro. In his first match back from injury since February 2014, the Argentine US Open champ will face Sergiy Stakhovsky to begin his campaign to defend his 2014 Apia International title.
Sam Stosur, who finally managed to turn the tables against Lucie Safarova on Monday, will face her second Czech opponent in two days. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova made it into the second round when her opponent Caroline Wozniacki withdrew from their match citing wrist problems.
Also in action on KRA on Tuesday – Bernard Tomic, Sam Stosur, and Petra Kvitova, Nick Kyrgios and Jerzy Janowicz, while Simona Halep, Agnieszka Radwanska, Vasek Pospisil and Sam Groth take on their opponents on Grandstand and the outer courts.
Dave Gertler is a tennis journalist, player and musician based in Sydney and is covering the Australian summer of tennis for Tennis Panorama News. Follow his personal Twitter @davegertler, read his blog, and listen to his podcast, Tennis Days .