'Tired' Kulikova snatches title as Zahlavova misses chances

Russian gives her all in final of Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge

Tenacious competitor
Image Credit: Atiq-ur-Rehman, Gulf News
Russian Regina Kulikova returns to Czech Sandra Zahlavova during the Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge 2009 final in Dubai yesterday
Gulf News

Dubai: Russia's Regina Kulikova was crowned the new champion at the 11th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge which concluded at the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa on Saturday evening.

In the final played before a sizeable holiday crowd, the 20-year-old tamed a fighting Sandra Zahlavova from the Czech Republic in straight sets 7-6 (6), 6-3 in an entertaining finale to this annual $75,000 (Dh275,250) tournament on the ITF Women's Circuit.

Khalaf Al Habtoor, Chairman of the Habtoor Group of Companies, was the chief guest and presented the winner's trophy and cheque to Kulikova after the match along with Mohammad Al Habtoor, Chief Executive, Al Habtoor Group and Thomas Ferrand and Mohammad Bin Tarraf from sponsors Emirates NBD.

"I was so tired after yesterday's semifinal [that lasted more than three hours] that I did not think I would be in a position to play when I woke up this morning," Kulikova told Gulf News.

"But I just believed in myself and did the best I could. She [Zahlavova] fought well, but I just hung in there and it paid off," added the 20-year-old from Russia.

It was Kulikova making the first move late in the opening set when she broke her Czech opponent in the ninth game for a 5-4 lead. But a crucial double fault in the very next game saw Zahlavova draw level 5-5.

The tie-break was a topsy-turvy affair with Kulikova racing to a 3-0 lead, only to see Zahlavova level at 3-3. The Czech had a chance to serve out while leading 5-3, but Kulikova levelled at 5-5 and then went on to win 8-6.

The second set started on a promising note for Zahlavova as she broke her 20-year-old opponent from Russia and then held for an early 2-0 lead. But Kulikova, who achieved her highest singles ranking of 128 on the Sony Ericsson WTA Tour in the first half of last month, broke back to make it 2-2.

However, Kulikova gave it all she had and that paid dividends as Zahlavova seemed to falter under the weight of the pressure as the Russian broke one more time in the eighth and then served out the match.

"I had my chances in the first set and I did not take them when I had them," said the Czech player.

"Things could have been different had I won the first set. But I really can't complain as nothing seemed to be working for me," Zahlavova said.

Results: Regina Kulikova bt Sandra Zahlavova 7-6 (6), 6-3.