INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - No.14 seed Elena Vesnina outlasted her countrywoman Svetlana Kuznetsova, 6-7(6), 7-5, 6-4 to win a marathon battle and claim her third WTA title at the BNP Paribas Open.
"Tennis is awesome, I can say," an elated Vesnina said in her post-match press conference.
A year after losing in the opening round of qualifying at this very tournament, the Russian needed just over three hours to complete the come from behind victory and take home the biggest title of her career.
"I was kind of fighting to just stay longer on the court, just don't give it so easy," she said of trailing the former World No.2 by a set and a break. "I was telling to myself, 'You're 4-1 down. Nothing to lose. Just fight for each game, try to win every point, and try to deserve every point, because she will not give you anything.'"
Vesnina enjoyed a strong start to the match, twice leading Kuznetsova by a break and holding a set point in the tenth game. Kuznetsova recovered to take a tense tie-break off a netcord winner.
"I spoke with my mom after the match, and she was, like, 'Oh, my God, the netcord, the set point, and you looked a little bit down in the beginning of the second set.'
"But that's true. I kind of lost that fighting momentum that I was taking to each game. I start missing a lot, started missing a lot of shots from the first or second shot. There were no long rallies like we had in the first set."
If Vesnina knows anything, it's how to make an epic comeback story; ranked outside the Top 100 at the start of 2016, she roared up nearly 100 spots to finish the year at a career-high ranking after reaching the semifinals of Wimbledon and winning both the Olympic Gold medal and the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global in doubles.
"She was up set 4-1, then 4-2 in the third. She had so many break points on my serve. She was 30-0 up couple of times on her serves. And I always kept coming back.
"I stuck there, you know. I was just not giving anything in that moment. I didn't think about the end of the match. I was just thinking about how to kind of get back into the game."
The Russian won six of the next seven games to serve out the second set, and roared back from a patchy pair of games in the middle of the decider to take the match in three.
"When I broke her at 4-All and went to serve for the match, I had this in my mind. I was, like, 'I'm not gonna give it. I went to serve,' and I was, like, 'I'm never gonna lose this game.'
"I don't know how I have it in my mind serving for the championship point, championship game, without getting so nervous. I was really calm. I was not afraid to lose, you know, maybe for the whole match. I was just trying to play."
And with 35 games contested between the two Russians, this final goes down in tournament history as the longest women's final in terms of games. The previous record of 30 happened twice previously, in the 1999 final when Serena Williams defeated Stefanie Graf and in the 2015 final when Simona Halep defeated Jelena Jankovic.
"I gotta be positive," Kuznetsova said after the match. "I made finals here, and that's great. I lost a match which I should have won, but this is tennis. Nobody died, so I move on, and I'm on a good way. I'm playing better. I'm winning lots of matches in a good way, in two sets. I'm really positive.
"Definitely I'm really frustrated with that loss, but I will go above that, hopefully, and it will be all right."
With the victory, Vesnina will break into the Top 8 on the Road To Singapore leaderboard for the first time in 2017, landing at No.6. Kuznetsova will move down to No.8. Vesnina will also rise to No.13 on the WTA rankings, beating her current career-best ranking of No.15.
"I won the title, and this sounds like a miracle for everybody, for you guys, for me, for, I think, all the girls out there," Vesnina said.
"I think nobody could pick me at the beginning of the tournament that I could win this title. Me, also. I couldn't pick myself!
"But then when I was kind of getting closer to this stage, and even today, I knew that Svetlana was the favorite of the match. I didn't care. I just wanted this title so much."
Get on the Road to Singapore to see who are amongst the top 8 in the first Leaderboard update!
This article was first seen on www.wtatennis.com.