WTA Brisbane: Roberta Vinci gets through in thriller against Kateryna Bondarenko

Roberta Vinci was originally supposed to face Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko in her first match of 2017 at the Brisbane International, but Tsurenko withdrew just before the match due to a viral illness, allowing her compatriot Kateryna Bondarenko, who was the top seed in qualifying but lost in the final qualifying round, to enter the main draw as a lucky loser. With both Bondarenko and Vinci being veterans of the game, the two would have definitely met at least once in their careers.

They entered the match with their head-to-head record being split with both players winning two matches each. All but one of their meetings came on clay, but their sole hard court meeting was won by Vinci in straight sets, losing only two games in their encounter at Luxembourg in 2009. This match was not viewed as a must-watch match before it started, and no one would have predicted that it would be such a thriller, with Vinci prevailing just over a quarter to three hours in three tiebreak sets, saving five match points in the process.

Bondarenko jumps out to an early lead

Vinci had a very nervy start to the match, allowing Bondarenko to get to deuce on her service game, but the Italian managed to hold her serve as her backhand slices gave Bondarenko all kinds of trouble. Bondarenko then had the momentum with her after she went on a small run, holding her serve to love. The Ukranian then made the first real breakthrough of the set, breaking Vinci’s serve in a tough game that saw the 2015 US Open finalist struggling with the wide groundstrokes by Bondarenko.

Vinci’s backhand was very inconsistent in the early stages of the match, and it certainly did not help as Bondarenko held her serve to consolidate the break. After Vinci maintained her composure to play her normal game, she managed to break back to level the match, however, she was immediately broken by Bondarenko once again, after the Italian was giving out unforced errors. Bondarenko then saved a break point to hold her service, hitting a wonderful down-the-line winner to save the break point. This allowed Bondarenko to go up 5-3, and just be a game away from winning the first set.

Bondarenko at the 2016 US Open | Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America
Bondarenko at the 2016 US Open | Photo: Alex Goodlett/Getty Images North America

Vinci fights back

Serving to stay in the set, Vinci used her experience of being on the tour to save set point and held her serve with a strong serve to give herself a slight chance of winning the set. Changing to a more offensive style of tennis, Vinci started to force errors out of Bondarenko and saved another set point before breaking back once more to level the match at the last moment. An exchange of holds then sent the set into a tiebreak to decide its winner. Vinci had another breakthrough at the last moment, getting a mini-break at 4-5 to earn two set points. It turned out that she only needed one, as Vinci took advantage of an unforced error by the Ukrainian.

Vinci at the 2016 Brisbane International | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac
Vinci at the 2016 Brisbane International | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac

Bondarenko jumps out to early lead again and levels the match

Bondarenko was the one who made the early breakthrough once again, breaking Vinci’s serve and holding her own service games to have a 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye. After an on-court coaching session with her coach, Vinci won 3 games in a row to return back level, gaining the momentum. After six straight holds of serve by both players, the set once again would be decided by a tiebreak. Jumping out to a 2-0 lead at the start of the tiebreak, Bondarenko did not let the lead slip away as she won the tiebreak 7-4, the same scoreline as in the first set.

Bondarenko has perfect start to final set

A few unforced errors to start the set with caused the 33-year-old to get broken in the opening game of the final set, having the worst possible start to the set. Vinci was almost broken once more in her next service game, but came from 15-30 down to hold her serve, and prevent Bondarenko from running away with the match. The Ukrainian then looked poised for an upset when she broke Vinci’s serve once again, coupled with her solid service games, to have a big 5-1 lead.

Vinci makes amazing comeback

Thought as a consolation game, Vinci held her serve to stay in the match, allowing Bondarenko to have the opportunity to serve for the match. An abundance of double faults then gave Vinci the chance to get a break back, after Bondarenko had missed four match points, losing two of them on double faults in a marathon 19-point game. Serving to stay in the match for the second time, Vinci saved match point and held her serve to close the deficit to just one game. Bondarenko had another good chance to close out the match when she served for it for the second consecutive time, but failed after she hit a couple of double faults once again.

The exchange of service holds then extended the match into a final set tiebreak to decide its winner. Bondarenko was the player who made the first breakthrough again, earning a 3-1 lead early in the tiebreak. Nevertheless, the Italian never once gave up, and won three straight points to take the lead in the tiebreak. The tiebreak then went on serve, and Vinci finally earned her well-deserved first match point after she hit a smash that landed perfectly on the line. Dealing with the pressure of serving on match point, Bondarenko lost after she made yet another error, gifting the match to Vinci, a match which saw her hit 14 double faults.

Vinci hitting a backhand slice at the 2016 Brisbane International | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac
Vinci hitting a backhand slice at the 2016 Brisbane International | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac

Vinci proceeds to second round

With this hard-fought victory, Vinci would face Japanese Misaki Doi in the second round, after Doi defeated Ekaterina Makarova in another thriller the day before. The pair have not met before, and Vinci would be the heavy favorite in that match to reach the quarterfinals for the second year in the running