Vera Zvonareva, the first seed at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow, was a surprise loser today to Bulgarian qualifier Tsvetana Pironkova. The loss propels Jelena Jankovic into the 8th and final spot at the year end Championships in Doha, Qatar next week.
Zvonareva's blog, hosted at the WTA's website, sheds a lot of light as to what kind of a grind 2009 has been for the 25-year-old Muscovite. If you can remember way back to this spring, Zvonareva suffered a horrible ankle injury in Charleston. To anyone who saw the injury happen live, it seemed almost miraculous that she made her return to the sport so swiftly. She was back on the court in late June, and this years Indian Wells champion (she took the singles and doubles titles there) fought her way into the round of 32 at Wimbledon before she was forced to retire against Virginie Razzano.
For Zvonareva, the frustration must have been amplified - she was not only struggling to get healthy, but injuries had forced her to withdraw against the same opponent whom she twisted her ankle against in April in Charleston.
But the animated Zvonareva marched on, and while most of the tennis world was quick to criticize her for her apparent meltdown against Flavia Pennetta in the 4th round of the U.S. Open, the fact of the matter was that Vera was, and had been, dealing with difficult injuries for all of the last 5 months. When she writhed on the court in agony, with a mix of consternation, agony, and unbridled frustration in that match, we were all quick to categorize her actions as another Zvonareva meltdown. But that assessment would be too simple, for in making such an assessment, what we overlooked (I say we, because I made the assessment as well) was the fact that Zvonareva had been facing real and maddeningly difficult problems related to the original ankle injury that she sustained in Charleston.
In a heartfelt post from Moscow, Zvonareva said the following: "I had a tough day today. I had problems with my knees in the match. They've been troubling me for the last few months. Hopefully it's nothing major. I feel pain in them, but I think all of these problems - my foot, my knees - are because if the ankle injury from earlier in the season. I'm compensating, and all the practice and playing is making it worse."
For Zvonareva, who expects so much of herself, and is capable of all that she expects when in top shape, it must have been a particularly tortuous season. And to think, she was a narrow miss for Doha. All said, she's done a remarkable job this season, and she should be commended for showing courage and determination and for being a large and entertaining part of the woman's season when she probably could have just as easily taken the season off.
The kid has guts, quite frankly, and whether or not she's learned to control her volatile temper is another issue entirely. The fact of the matter is that Vera has played some brilliant tennis this year, under a great deal of stress, and we, as fans of the game who are so quick to criticize these world-class athletes for their lack of whatever we think they should possess, should be just as quick to praise Vera for battling like a true warrior (and being unafraid to cry) under difficult circumstances.
But now, thankfully, it is time for Vera to rest a bit. "I want to put everything behind me," Zvonareva said. I've been told I need to take six weeks off to let this heal."
Here's to a proper rest, vera.