Zvonareva bends, but doesn't break, in loss

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Vera Zvonareva

Vera Zvonareva's outburst in Saturday's women's singles final was nothing compared to her meltdown in last year's U.S. Open fourth round. (AP)

Until Saturday night Vera Zvonareva seemed light years from the woman who famously melted down against Flavia Pennetta in the fourth round of last year’s U.S. Open. Seeded seventh this year, Zvonareva stormed through the draw without losing a set -- or her cool.

That’s not to say she wouldn’t be rattled along the way. She could’ve easily cracked in her semifinal against top-seeded Caroline Wozniacki on Friday. Zvonareva not only had to battle the swirling winds inside Arthur Ashe Stadium, but also racket strings that broke in the middle of the match. Zvonareva uses a synthetic string called Gamma Zo that her coach, Sergey Demekhi, said is so fragile that “sometimes they just start to break even when you’re stringing them.” Though her Prince rackets were not strung especially tight on Friday, the Gamma Zo strings were nonetheless a poor enough fit to force Zvonareva into making a slew of racket changes before closing out the first set.

Her string problems had her coach fearing the worst. “I was nervous,” said Demekhi, who at one point had his own racket sent down to Zvonareva. “But Vera, she stayed calm until the last moment. This is a big improvement for her.”

Still, she isn’t above breaking a racket herself in the name of stress relief or motivation. “I’d rather break my racket and get emotional but inside myself be absolutely positive and know that I will concentrate and fight,” she said after her semifinal triumph on Friday. “I’d rather be that than the player who holds everything inside. They look like they don’t have emotions, but maybe they don’t even know what to do. I’ll be emotional. That’s what I am. But I know I’m going to try my best again.”

On Saturday, however, she was anything but. Her main problem was Kim Clijsters, and Zvonareva was at a total loss for how to deal with her. With a formidable all-court game, Clijsters dispatched with Zvonareva 6-2, 6-1 to claim her third U.S. Open title. The worse things got, the more Zvonavera reverted to form. After one frustrating point, Zvonareva bashed her racket on the court until the head cracked. The match spanned just 59 minutes -- or eight minutes longer than her straight sets defeat to Serena Williams at Wimbledon in July. “I don’t think I was overwhelmed,” Zvonareva said after losing to Clijsters, whom she had beaten twice before this year. “Kim just played a very good match. She really didn’t give me chances.”

Zvonareva labored to hold back tears during the trophy presentation, but quickly regained her composure in defeat. She was graceful, reassuring the capacity crowd that “even though I’m disappointed at the moment, I love New York.” That instigated reciprocal cries of “We love you, Vera” and a measure of encouragement from Clijsters. She urged Zvonareva to “keep going” in her Grand Slam title quest. “It’ll happen,” she cooed.

That Zvonareva believes it will too is yet another sign of just how far she’s come. “When I finish my career, maybe I will look back and I will remember some great moments. But at [this] moment, I will try to look forward.”