Tsvetana Pironkova (BulgarianЦветана Кирилова Пиронкова) (born 13 September 1987) is a top-100 Bulgarian tennis player. She was born and lives in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Pironkova is right-handed and plays with a two-handed backhand. She achieved her career-high ranking of world no. 31 in September 2010. She is best known for reaching the semifinals of Wimbledonin 2010, and for defeating Venus Williams three times at Grand Slam tournaments. She is currently the Bulgarian no. 1 (and the only one in the top 200),[1] and has won six ITF titles in her career. Pironkova has been recognized by The New York Times for her "cerebral" grass-court abilities, and named one of the most beautiful women in sports by MSN.

Early life and Junior career[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Pironkova was born in 1987 to Kiril Enchev Pironkov, a former canoeing champion, and Radosveta Chinkova Nikolova, a former swimming champion.[4] She started playing tennis at the age of 4,[4] when her father Kiril introduced her to the game. Kiril later became her coach.[5]

Pironkova plays right-handed, and uses a double backhand.[5] In 2001, Pironkova won the Atlantic Cup International Junior Tournament held in Bulgaria,[6] and her career-high in juniors was world no. 227 in March 2002.[7]

Professional career[edit source | editbeta]Edit

ITF[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In August 2002 at the age of 14, Pironkova played her first professional tournament at the International Tennis Federation tournament in Bucharest, Romania. Pironkova won three qualifying matches before reaching the final in the main draw, where she lost to Monica Niculescu of Romania.[8]

In September 2002, Pironkova played in the ITF event in Volos, Greece, where she lost only one set playing through the qualifying and main draw. She defeated Tina Schmassmann of Switzerland [9] to win her first professional ITF event.[4]

In 2003, she won three ITF singles titles, one in Orestiada and two in Istanbul.[4]

WTA[edit source | editbeta]Edit

2005–06[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In the week of 14–21 May 2005, at the age of 17, Pironkova played in her first WTA-level tournament, the Tier III event in Istanbul, Turkey. After winning two qualifying matches, Pironkova won three matches in the main draw before she lost in the semifinals to Venus Williams.[10]

In January 2006, Pironkova made headlines by defeating tenth-seed Venus Williams in the first round of the 2006 Australian Open.[11] Pironkova was ranked 94th in the world.[12][13][14]However, in the next round, she lost to Laura Granville.[15]

In the first round at Wimbledon, Pironkova came from a set down to defeat then-top 20 player Anna-Lena Grönefeld. However, in the second round, she lost to Agnieszka Radwańska in straight sets.[16] On 16 November 2006, Pironkova reached her then career-high singles ranking of 62.[17]

2007[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In 2007, Pironkova lost in the first rounds of the Australian Open, French Open, and Wimbledon. She played in qualifying rounds for the US Open, and beat Zuzana OndráškováMarta Domachowska, and Stéphanie Dubois to reach the main draw. She drew Olga Puchkova from Russia in the first round, and won that match to set up a clash with world no. 1, Justine Heninin the second round. Pironkova lost to Henin in straight sets.[18]

After the US Open in September, Pironkova played in one of the biggest challenger events of the year in Bordeaux, winning the tournament with straight-set victories over Mathilde JohanssonTatjana Malek and Alizé Cornet [16][19]

2008[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Pironkova made a solid start to 2008, winning two qualifying matches at the Tier II event in Sydney before bowing out in three sets to Dominika Cibulková. She reached the second round of the Australian Open, losing to second-seededSvetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets.[16]

She caused another upset at the 2008 Rome Masters. As a qualifier, she beat top seed and world no. 3 Ana Ivanović in the second round for the biggest victory of her career at that time. She advanced to the quarterfinals, her first ever at a Tier I event, when Victoria Azarenka retired during their third round match with Pironkova leading. In the quarterfinals she was defeated in three sets by Anna Chakvetadze.[16]

In September, Pironkova reached the final in an ITF event in Sofia, where she lost to Nuria Llagostera Vives.[16] She ended the year ranked no. 46 in the world.[5]

2009[edit source | editbeta]Edit

In 2009, Pironkova made the quarterfinals at the 2009 Moorilla Hobart International before she lost to Virginie Razzano. En route, she defeated then world no. 15 Patty Schnyder. It was her fifth top 20 win in her career.[4] At the Australian Open she defeated Karolina Šprem in the first round before losing to 16th seeded Marion Bartoli.[16]

Seeded No. 8 at the first Andalucia Tennis Experience, Pironkova lost in the first round to Roberta Vinci.[16] She also lost in the first rounds of the French Open and Wimbledon, both times to Jill Craybas.[16]

2010: First Grand Slam semifinal[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[1][2]Pironkova at the 2010 US Open

Pironkova exited the Australian Open with a second-round loss to world no. 28 Shahar Pe'er. She made her first ITF Tour appearance of the year in the Fort Walton Beach tournament, where she reached the semifinals.[20]

In Warsaw she reached her first quarterfinal of the year after defeating Elena Dementieva. She then lost to the defending and eventual champion Alexandra Dulgheru. At the French OpenPironkova lost to four-time tournament champion Justine Henin in the first round.

Entering Wimbledon with a 1–4 career record at the event,[2] Pironkova went beyond the second round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, and become the first Bulgarian to reach a semifinal of a Grand Slam tournament since Manuela Maleeva achieved this feat at the US Open in 1992 and 1993.[21] Pironkova beat five-time champion Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. She then lost her first Major semifinal to Vera Zvonareva in three sets.[20]

In July she scored a straight-sets victory over Tatjana Malek in Istanbul. However, she then recorded three consecutive losses, two of which were to Anastasia Rodionova and one to Anna Lapushchenkova.

At the US Open, Pironkova lost in the second round to qualifier Mandy Minella. In her last tournament of the year, Moscow's 2010 Kremlin Cup, Pironkova lost in the second round to Dominika Cibulková, and ended the year eanked no. 35 in the world.[20][17]

2011[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[3][4]Pironkova at the 2011 Wimbledon Championships

In the Australian Open Pironkova fell the in second round to Monica Niculescu. She was seeded 32nd in the French Open, where she lost to Gisela Dulko in the second round.[22]

Pironkova entered Wimbledon as the no. 32 seed. In the third round she defeated world no. 3 and second-seeded Vera Zvonareva in straight sets, thus avenging her loss in the semifinals the previous year. She went on to defeat former champion Venus Williams in the fourth round, falling in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Petra Kvitová. In July, Pironkova competed in the Internazionali Femminili Di Palermo tournament, where she defeated Anna Tatishvili in the first round and Sorana Cîrstea in the second, before losing to Flavia Pennetta in the quarterfinals.[23]At the 2011 US Open Pironkova defeated Virginie Razzano in the first round, but lost to world no. 13 Peng Shuai in the second.[22] She teamed with Chanelle Scheepers in the doubles tournament, but they were defeated by Arantxa Parra Santonja and Nuria Llagostera Vives.

At the 2011 Toray Pan Pacific Open Pironkova beat Gisela Dulko in the first round, but then lost to Vera Zvonareva in the second. At 2011 Kremlin Cup Pironkova beat Petra Martić, after Martićretired due to injury. She then lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round, and ended the year at number 46 in the world.[17]

2012[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Pironkova began 2012 representing Bulgaria at the 2012 Hopman Cup losing to Petra Kvitová. Pironkova and her partner Grigor Dimitrov managed to defeat Tomáš Berdych and Kvitová in doubles. Despite their win the team of Bulgaria lost to the Czech Republic (1–2), after Pironkova and Dimitrov lost their singles matches.[24] Afterward, their team was victorious against Denmark 2–1.[25] The team of Bulgaria scored a victory over the team of the United States, but finished second in Group A and didn't qualify for the final.[26]

At the Australian Open, Pironkova defeated Sania Mirza in the first round, before losing to Galina Voskoboeva in the second. She again represented Bulgaria in the Fed Cup, alongside Elitsa KostovaDia Evtimova and Isabella Shinikova. On 1 February, the team scored their first victory, after beating Estonia (3–0).[27] Later, the team lost to Austria, then lost again to Portugal and finished seventh place in the group.[28]

Pironkova competed in the 2012 Qatar Total Open, recording a victory over Angelique Kerber in the second round, but losing to Marion Bartoli in the third. She reached the second round of the 2012 Sony Ericsson Open, losing to Roberta Vinci. At the Brussels Open, Pironkova reached the quarterfinals, falling to Kaia Kanepi.[29] She then reached the second round of the French Open, losing to former champion Francesca Schiavone.

At the 2012 Aegon International, Pironkova reached her second quarterfinal of the season after defeating no. 1 seeded Agnieszka Radwańska and qualifier Stéphanie Dubois, losing to eventual champion Tamira Paszek. At the 2012 Wimbledon Championships, Pironkova lost a second-round match to Maria Sharapova in three sets. She reached the quarterfinals of the 2012 Swedish Open losing to Polona Hercog.

At the 2012 US Open, Pironkova reached the third round of a Major besides Wimbledon for the first time. She defeated Camila Giorgi in the first round, Ayumi Morita in the second, and Silvia Soler Espinosa in the third. In the fourth round, with a first US Open quarter-final in sight, she was upset by former world no. 1 Ana Ivanovic. Her last tournament of the year was the 2012 Qatar Airways Tournament of Champions, where she entered with a wild card. She lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the semifinals.[26]

2013[edit source | editbeta]Edit

[5][6]Pironkova at the 2013 Wimbledon Championships

Pironkova reached the quarterfinals of the Moorilla Hobart International in Australia, where she lost to the defending champion Mona Barthel.[30]

She was eliminated in the first round of the Australian Open by Romina Oprandi. In February, Pironkova took part in the Fed Cup tie Bulgaria vs. Netherlands, defeating Arantxa Rus in straight sets, helping Bulgaria win the tie. She later helped Bulgaria win the tie against Luxembourg with a victory over veteran Anne Kremer. On 9 February, she played in the tie against Slovenia, and beat Tjasa Srimpf after Srimpf retired after losing the first game of the match, which advanced Bulgaria to the promotion playoffs. In the playoff tie against Great Britain on 10 February, Pironkova lost against Heather Watson in three sets, meaning that Bulgaria lost the tie and remained in the Fed Cup Europe/Africa Group I.

Following a string of first-round losses,[30] Pironkova beat Karolína Plíšková in Marrakesh, but then lost in three sets to Lourdes Domínguez Lino, who went on to reach the final. She then lost a series of first-round matches throughout the remainder of the clay-court season, culminating with an early exit at the French Open.[30]

On her preferred surface of grass,[2] Pironkova snapped her losing streak at the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, defeating Lauren Davis in the opening round. She dropped her second-round match to Sorana Cîrstea. She went on to play in Hertogenbosch, where she beat Kristina Mladenovic and Irina-Camelia Begu, marking the first time since January that she reached the third round of a WTA event. She then lost to Carla Suárez Navarro in three sets.[30]

In an interview with The New York Times, Pironkova revealed that winning the final of Wimbledon "would be the ultimate dream coming true."[2] At the 2013 Wimbledon Championships, she advanced to the fourth round. However, despite winning the first set, she lost in three sets to Agnieszka Radwańska.[30]

Playing style[edit source | editbeta]Edit

Pironkova prefers fast surfaces, and is known for setting up passing shots via her use of short balls and forehand slices. She is also noted for her powerful backhand, and for mixing flat shots into rallies.

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