Zvonareva zoning in on major chance

 - Alex Sharp

Russian is a match away from repeating a 2002 Parisian run through the Grand Slam qualifying gauntlet.

Vera Zvonareva, Roland Garros 2020, qualifying second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

“I still believe in myself, I still believe I can beat anyone on the other side of the net if I’m able to play my best tennis. That’s not easy to do at all.”

Former world No.2 Vera Zvonareva is a player brimming with belief, but plenty of perspective.

“The competition is increasingly tough at the moment, it doesn’t matter if you’re in qualies or main draw, you will have to be ready for anything," she says.

The fiercely determined Russian, a 2003 quarter-finalist at Roland Garros, has booked a third-round qualifying clash with No.16 seed Monica Niculescu, after halting a resurgence from Arina Rodionova in a 6-0, 6-4 victory on Thursday.

Zvonareva has produced patches of scintillating tennis in Paris thus far and stormed through the opening set in just 27 minutes.

“It’s always nice to get a win. I haven’t been able to play too many matches at Roland-Garros in recent years,” added the 36-year-old, making only a second appearance in Paris since 2011. “The challenge out there is huge and to have another chance on the court is great feeling.”

Vera Zvonareva, Roland Garros 2020, qualifying second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

The 2010 Wimbledon and US Open finalist last successfully qualified for a major at Roland-Garros right at the beginning of her career in 2002.

“It was my first ever Grand Slam. I think I was the last player into the qualifying. Eventually I made it through and then took on Serena Williams in the fourth round. I was one of only two players to take a set off her that year,” said the current world No.182, fondly recalling the 4-6, 6-0, 6-1 triumph in favour of eventual champion Williams.

Still hunting down more major moments, Zvonareva remained on court following her first-round encounter for an intense training session, fine-tuning with player-turned-coach Stephane Robert.

“You have to be dedicated if you want to make some improvements. By today’s standards if you don’t keep improving, you won’t last long,” she says.

Nadia Podoroska burst back onto the scene after lockdown with an astonishing set of results. Inspired by the prospect of featuring in a maiden Roland-Garros, the Argentine has cruised through with conviction. 

“I’ve been playing a lot of matches in the past few weeks, that’s given me a lot of confidence and I couldn’t be happier,” said the eighth seed following a 6-0, 6-4 passage past Jaqueline Cristan. “My level is up, I’m not making too many mistakes, which is putting a lot of pressure on my opponents.”

Nadia Podoroska, Roland Garros, qualifying second round© Cédric Lecocq/FFT

The 23-year-old, playing at a career-high No.130, has compiled an impressive 16-3 record since the return of tennis.

Qualifying for the WTA Palermo event was swiftly backed up by a semi-finals spot at the $125k tournament in Prague, ahead of a title triumph in the ITF Saint-Malo $60K earlier this month. 

“It’s been a very promising and productive year for me, even before the quarantine. I trained so much at my base in Alicante, over three months my coaches helped improve all aspects and that is coming out on the court,” she explained.

Podoroska last featured in a Grand Slam at US Open 2016 and attributes her patience in returning to main draw contention in Paris.

“So many things like injuries, changing my team, out of form, it took me a long time to regain the confidence I have now,” she said. “To be back at this level is a great feeling. Roland-Garros is such a special place for South Americans so I would love to make it, but I have one more match to focus on.”

That final encounter is versus China’s Wang Xinyu. The 20th seed earned a 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-1 victory facing France’s Tessah Andrianjafitrimo.  

Around the grounds, top seed Ann Li was knocked out 6-7(12), 7-6(4), 6-4 in an epic by Russian Kamilla Rakhimova.

Egyptian Mayar Sherif continues to chase history and surged into the deciding match with a 6-2, 6-4 scorecard against the No.3 seed Caty McNally. Sherif is now one victory away from becoming the first woman representing Egypt to feature in a Grand Slam main draw.

Clara Tauson sauntered through, dropping just three games to sixth seed Elisabetta Cocciaretto. Marta Kostyuk remains in contention courtesy of a 6-2, 6-2 win over Laura Ioana Paar, booking a showdown with Kurumi Nara.  

2012 finalist Sara Errani is a match away from the main draw, with Czech Republic’s Tereza Martincova the final duel.