Elena Vesnina has stunned Svetlana Kuznetsova to win the biggest WTA title of her career.
Vesnina, seeded 14th, beat her fellow Russian 6-7(6) 7-5 6-4 in a three-hour contest befitting of the occasion.
Vesnina trailed Kuznetsova 4-1 in the second set and 4-2 in the third before recovering to become champion.
The loss takes Kuznetsova’s record in Indian Wells deciders to 0-3; the 31-year-old also lost the 2007 and 2008 finals.
“I was down the whole match except the first set,” Vesnina said.
“I was kind of fighting to just stay longer on the court, just don’t give it so easy. I was telling to myself, You’re 4-1 down. Nothing to lose. Just fight for each game, try to win every point, try to deserve every point, because she will not give you anything.
“When I was down 4-2 in the third set, I know these kind of feelings when you’re having so much chances and you’re not using them, then your opponent will have one chance and she will use it.
“I always keep coming back. I stick there, you know. I was just not giving anything, that moment. I didn’t thought about, like, the end of the match. I was just thinking about how to kind of get back into the game.
“I don’t know how I have it in my mind, serving for the championship point, championship game, and (not) be so nervous. I was really calm. I was not thinking that if I’m going to lose this game it’s going to be 5-All. I was not afraid to lose, maybe for the whole match.
“I was just trying to play.”
A high-quality first set – highlighted by a combined 45 winners to just 26 errors – demonstrated both players’ technical prowess and command of all shots in the book.
Vesnina, playing further up the court and looking to dictate with hard, flat power, also advanced on the net 19 times.
Kuznetsova, at her best on a claycourt, patrolled the area of the court behind the baseline and showcased her fleet footfoork and heavy topspin forehand.
It was Vesnina who jumped out to a quicker start – she broke for a 2-0 lead with a forehand return winner – but as the set wore on Kuznetsove reeled her in, at different stages impressing the crowd with sharply angled crosscourt forehand passing shot winners off solid Vesnina approach shots.
In the 10th game, Kuznetsova saved a set point and the set eventually progressed to a tiebreak.
After a tense exchange to cap the tiebreak, Kuznetsova won it in the cruellest of manners – her forehand clipped the tape and died on Vesnina’s side of the court.
“End of the first set? Oh, it was such a heartbreaking moment for me,” Vesnina said. “I was, like, Oh, my God, I was fighting so much. We played set for more than an hour, This is how it’s gonna end?”
With the first set in hand, Kuznetsova built a 4-1 lead in the second. And then the wheels fell off.
She became passive while Vesnina upped her aggression; the 14th seed reeled off four straight games to completely swing the momentum of the match.
Vesnina served for the set only for Kuznetsova to rediscover her fire, and she belted a forehand winner to break back for 5-5.
But when Vesnina broke serve again in the following game – courtesy of a wild Kuznetsova error – she didn’t falter when attempting to serve it out a second time.
A backhand passing shot winner followed by an ace sent the match to a third.
Just like the second set, Kuznetsova built a healthy lead only for Vesnina to insert herself back into the match. Kuznetsova had yet another chance – in the seventh game at 0-30 – yet Vesnina served her way out of trouble to level scores at 4-4.
When she found the line with a forehand return winner, Vesnina broke Kuznetsova and found herself serving for the title.
And she played a magnificent game, hitting out positively against a dispirited Kuznetsova to seal victory in three hours and one minute.
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