LONDON, England - The last time she reached a Grand Slam semifinal, at the Australian Open in 2009, things looked on the up and up. A squeaky clean No.5 world ranking, a sparkling 20-3 record to start the year and the clay court season - one of her favorites - approaching around the corner.
But in Charleston that all came crashing down. In the third game of her third round match against Virginie Razzano she injured her right ankle and would be off the tour until the grass court season. The momentum she enjoyed was gone, as she had an average 13-10 record the rest of the year.
Vera Zvonareva's 2009 season was marred: "When you go through a lot of injuries in your career it puts doubts in your head. It is difficult to come back from an injury. You lose confidence. But I always believed in myself."
Zvonareva had surgery on the ankle at the end of 2009 and had a strong start to 2010, winning one title (Pattaya) and reaching another final (Charleston, fittingly) but in the four tournaments leading up to Wimbledon she was struggling to find her best form, losing early at all four. Then came the All-England Club.
"I was frustrated when my injuries weren't going away, but I knew a soon as I felt 100%, I'd be able to play good tennis again. I can work hard every day, and I believe that if you work hard, you will achieve. It was a matter of time."
She hadn't been to the second week of Wimbledon in six years but that - and a subpar, for her, No.21 seeding - didn't stop Zvonareva from cruising through to the fourth round, losing just 16 games in her first three matches, which included a 64 62 upset of No.15 seed Yanina Wickmayer. She was rolling past No.4 seed Jelena Jankovic, 61 30, when the Serb retired with a back injury.
Then came the headline-maker. Having never beaten Kim Clijsters in five previous meetings, and with Clijsters a heavy favorite to win, Zvonareva fought her heart out, rallying from a set down to beat the No.8-seeded two-time Grand Slam champion, 36 64 62, and move into her second Grand Slam semifinal.
"I was not looking around. I was trying to stay concentrated. I was thinking of what I was going to do on the next point. That's about it," Zvonareva said. "Even after I lost the first set, I was trying not to think about it. I'm more experienced now, more mature. I was able to hang in there. I played one point at a time."
And on the subject of that concentration, Zvonareva is somewhat famous now for that towel - over her head. On changeovers, the Russian covers up. Why?
"Nothing matters on the court besides thinking of what you're going to do next. If you see all the things around you, it takes your concentration away, and then maybe you'll make a wrong decision on the court. It's important my head is relaxed. I can do a lot of things in my game, and if I am focused and do what I want to do, I'm capable ot beating anyone on the other side."