Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Two of the top-five women's players in the world right now hail from Russia, thanks to its latest entry -- the surging Nadia Petrova.
Heading into the final two weeks of the 2005 season, the more-than-capable Petrova still had never won a singles title on the WTA Tour. But that finally changed when the hard-hitting Muscovite broke through with a championship last October in Austria, where she beat tough Swiss lefty Patty Schnyder in the final at the Generali Ladies Linz.
And roughly six months later, Petrova is now certifiably hot, having won four of her last 13 tournaments, including three of her seven tourneys this year. She's fresh off her back-to-back titles at Amelia Island and Charleston, as she completed a rare sweep of the brief American clay-court season.
Petrova topped Italy's Francesca Schiavone in the finale at Amelia Island two weeks ago, and outlasted the aforementioned Schnyder in a grueling three- setter in the Charleston title bout last week amid hot conditions at the Family Circle Tennis Center. She needed six match points to stop the nifty Schnyder. The win marked the first-ever Tier I championship for the 5-foot-10 Petrova, making it the biggest victory of her blossoming career.
Petrova's career prize money is now just over $4.295 million, thanks to her $196,900 windfall in Charleston and her $95,900 payday at Amelia Island, where she was the top seed.
Petrova has titled three times since early March, including back-to-back titles in Amelia Island and Charleston over the last two weeks.
With the Family Circle title, Petrova became just the sixth woman to complete the American clay-court sweep, joining Chris Evert (1981), Steffi Graf (1986-87), Martina Navratilova (1988), Gabriela Sabatini (1991-92) and the just-retired Conchita Martinez (1995). That's elite company by any account!
The 23-year-old Petrova is riding a 10-match winning streak and is a scorching 17-1 dating back to a title run in Doha last month, when she stunned current world No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo in straight sets in the final at the Qatar Total Open. The Russian's only loss over the last month came at the hands of the Australian Open champion Mauresmo in a quarterfinal bout in Miami.
Petrova's toughest loss of the season thus far came against her fellow Russian Maria Sharapova in the Aussie Open quarters back in January. The former world No. 1 and 2004 Wimbledon titlist Sharapova is currently the highest-ranked Russian on the planet, at No. 3.
At No. 5 in the world now, Petrova is enjoying her highest-ever ranking. She leads the tour with 28 match wins this year and co-leads the circuit, along with Mauresmo, with three titles in '06.
The two-time French Open semifinalist should head into Roland Garros 2006 with a ton of confidence. She seems to be stepping out of the shadows of several of her countrywomen and setting herself up as a Grand Slam contender in the coming months.
"I'm extremely happy the way I've started the clay-court season winning the two tournaments," Petrova said. "I feel very comfortable on this surface, and I feel my game is taking another level. I'm really looking forward to the red clay."
FYI, the American clay is green and plays faster than the slow red stuff.
"I'm enjoying myself on court, I'm starting to get the taste of winning, and I'm feeling very confident out there," she added. "It feels like I'm really rolling in those matches. I don't feel nervous. I don't feel tense. It's just very consistent."
Although Petrova has been playing lights out on clay, she actually prefers hardcourts, a surface where she can be aggressive and finish points early.
Petrova headed into '06 ranked ninth in the world and she's been a fixture inside the top 15 since 2003. She's played her best major tennis at Roland Garros, where she's 15-5 lifetime, including two trips into the semis over the last three years. Petrova's a career 54-24 at the Slams, including the trek into the Aussie quarters this year.
The talented Russian reached the quarterfinals or better in 17 events last season, including three of the four Slams.
The 11-time doubles titlist Petrova comes from an athletic background, as her father, Victor Petrov, was a top hammer thrower and her mother, Nadejda Ilina, was a bronze medalist in the 400-meter relay at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal. One of Petrova's doubles titles came at the prestigious WTA Tour Championships in 2004.
The red-hot Petrova will play Fed Cup tennis this weekend, as the Russians travel to Belgium for a clash with a powerful Belgian squad that features world No. 2 U.S. Open champ Kim Clijsters and fourth-ranked French Open titlist Justine Henin-Hardenne. As it turns out (with the emergence of Petrova), three of the top-five players in the world will be on hand for the best-of-five opening-round showdown in Liege. The Russians, who will also have two-time Grand Slam runner-up Elena Dementieva, Maria Kirilenko and Dinara Safina at their disposal, are the two-time defending Fed Cup champs.
Petrova's 6-1 in her career Fed Cup matches, including 2-1 in singles, with her only loss coming against Henin-Hardenne in the 2001 World Group final.