Elena Vesnina capped a stellar Indian Wells campaign with a hard-fought 6-7 (6/8), 7-5, 6-4 triumph over fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova on Sunday.
Playing in her first final at the elite Premier Mandatory level, world number 15 Vesnina battled through a tense three hours and one minute to subdue eighth-ranked Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion.
The triumph comes a year after Vesnina, 30, fell in the first round of qualifying at Indian Wells and capped a tournament that saw her down both Germany’s soon-to-be number one Angelique Kerber and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams.
For Kuznetsova, it was a third disappointment in as many finals at Indian Wells, this one coming a decade after she fell in back to back finals in 2007 and 2008.
A third set that, like the first two, featured multiple service breaks came down to marathon ninth game, in which Kuznetsova saved four break points before Vesnina converted her fifth with a stinging service winner to find herself serving for the match.
After knocking a forehand wide on her first match point, she secured the victory when Kuznetsova’s service return went long.
The victory continues Vesnina’s rise of the last year. She reached the semi-finals at Wimbledon in 2016 and is no stranger to the big stage in doubles, in which she captured Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro.
In a first set featuring four breaks of serve, Kuznetsova gave Vesnina a set point with a double fault in the 10th game, but Vesnina sent a forehand wide and Kuznetsova escaped to hold serve.
She double-faulted herself on her first set point in the tiebreaker before Vesnina saved another set point with a service winner.
Kuznetsova finally sealed the set with the help of a favorable netcord bounce after an hour and 11 minutes.
Vesnina looked a little rattled as Kuznetsova stormed through the first two games of the second set.
But she slowed Kuznetsova’s progress with a break for 2-1 before another break and a hold from Kuznetsova put Kuznetsova up 4-1.
Vesnina then won four straight games to find herself serving for the set. She didn’t get a whiff of a set point as Kuznetsova closed out yet another service break with two crisp forehand winners.
But Vesnina responded with a break of her own and wouldn’t waste her next chance, firing an ace on her first set point to send it to a third.