Zvonareva holds onto title

This being tennis and not boxing, it wouldn't be accurate to say that the challenger had the defending champ on the ropes. But after taking a 3-0 lead in the first set of the Cellular South Cup finals Saturday night at The Racquet Club, it is safe to say that top seed Vera Zvonareva was not in good position -- especially when she was within a point of having her serve broken again and falling behind 4-0. "I wasn't even thinking about that," Zvonareva said. "I was just trying to find my game. She (No. 3 seed Meghann Shaughnessy) was playing really well and attacking my serve right away....

Once I hit a couple of good shots, I was OK." OK? No, she was more than OK. Zvonareva went on to a 7-6 (3) 6-2 victory for her second straight championship on the Stadium Court. In accepting the winner's trophy, Zvonareva remembered how it all started for her: "Thank you to Mac Winker (the tournament's owner), who gave me a wildcard here four years ago." Zvonareva, a 20-year-old Russian, is No. 11 on the WTA Tour and was the highest-ranked player in the tournament. This was her third WTA title, and her first title defense. "When I was on the court, I wasn't really thinking I was the defending champ," she said. "I was trying to play my best."

It's what she pretty much did all week. She did not lose a set in five matches. Shaughnessy, 25, from Arizona, did not lose a set until Saturday's finals. And the way this match started, with Shaughnessy up 3-0 in the first set and within a point of gaining another service break, it looked like she might be the one to go through the tournament unscathed. "I lost a little intensity," Shaughnessy said of the match's turn in the first set. "It was a good week. I really feel like I played some good tennis. "I'm disappointed I didn't keep it together for the finals."

Although Shaughnessy had eight aces to Zvonareva's two, Shaughnessy's serve was not the force it had been in other matches in the tournament. "It's always tough to say if you're going to break her, because if she serves four aces, what can you do?" Zvonareva said. "I didn't serve well at all," said Shaughnessy. "And she played pretty well. When I'm playing well is when I'm intense and serving and looking for my forehand. Without that, it changes the whole momentum." Zvonareva took the momentum from the tiebreaker into the second set, which she won with ease. This was the fourth time these two have met, and Zvonareva now holds a 3-1 advantage. Although she was in the role of defending champ, Zvonareva said she felt more pressure because of her ranking. "Because in 90 percent of my matches I am the higher-ranked player," she said. "It just means I have to prove myself all the time." Like she did here all week and again in Saturday's finals.

By Don Wade February, 20, 2005