China’s Zheng Jie produced a remarkable comeback against Svetlana Kuznetsova yesterday to beat the former world No. 2 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 and advance to the final of the Auckland Classic against Flavia Pennetta.
Like her previous matches this week on the Auckland hard courts, Kuznetsova came out firing and raced to a 5-1 lead in the first set and looked set for an easy stroll into the final.
However, 28-year-old Zheng began to find her touch and while she lost the first set 6-2, the turnaround had begun.
She took a medical time out between the first and second sets and then set about overhauling the Russian third seed.
Kuznetsova had seen everything go her way this week with booming forehands that had kissed the tramlines, but she now found them sailing just wide or long, if not mistiming them altogether.
Zheng lost the fifth game of the second set to go 3-2 down, but won the next four to send the semi-final into a decider.
Both players held their opening service game before the Chinese again rattled off the next four games to give herself a 5-1 lead and the opportunity to serve out the match.
Two-time Grand Slam winner Kuznetsova would not go down without a fight and broke back to 5-2, held serve and then had three break points in the ninth game.
However, Zheng regained control and a wide forehand from Kuznetsova ended the match in two hours, 28 minutes, giving the Chinese player the opportunity to claim her fourth career title.
“I think this match was very important for me because last year I had an injured wrist and to make the final of this tournament has given me more confidence to go to Melbourne for the Australian Open,” Zheng said. “Pennetta is a very good player and is playing well this week so it will be a tough match tomorrow.”
Pennetta made short work of an error-prone Angelique Kerber with her 6-1, 6-2 victory taking less than an hour.
Kerber had been a potentially dangerous opponent for the 29-year-old Italian, having beaten her in three sets in their last meeting during the quarter-finals of the US Open in New York.
Pennetta, who also had to play a doubles semi-final later yesterday, was ruthlessly efficient, playing superb defensive tennis and waiting for the German to make mistakes.
“It was a very emotional match for me because I lost to her last time in the US Open quarter-final, so I had a lot of things on my mind,” Pennett said in a courtside interview. “But I think I [played] really well. I was really fast [around] the court. She was hitting the ball really hard, but I was ready to play one more ball all the time, so I’m happy.”