Marathon match at Indian Wells decided by third-set tiebreaker.
By ALLON SINAI
Shahar Pe'er's run at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, California, ended in heartbreaking fashion on Wednesday when the Israeli lost a painfully close quarterfinal 6-2, 5-7, 7-6(5) to Daniela Hantuchova.
The Israeli, who is ranked No. 16 in the world, led 5-3 in the third-set tiebreaker and was within two points of reaching the last four. However, Hantuchova (18) reeled off the next four points to reach an Indian Wells semifinal for the second time in her career.
"I had a good chance when I was leading 5-3, but I missed a silly backhand," the 19-year-old Israeli said. "I felt I was on my way to winning the match after taking a 6-5 lead in the third set, but she served unbelievably well in the next game and she hit two amazing serves at 5-4 in the breaker."
Hantuchova, who will overtake Pe'er in the WTA rankings, hit 66% of her first serves in and reached 12 break points on the Israeli's service games throughout the two-hour, 54-minute match.
"With her, it's never easy," the 23-year-old Slovakian said. "She's a great fighter and I was expecting that coming into the match. I knew it was going to be a battle, as the final score proves. I'm just really glad I got the win at the end."
Hantuchova dominated the first set and broke Pe'er twice.
After the first five games of the second set went according to serve, Pe'er got her first break of the match and two games later served for the set with a 5-3 lead. However, the Israeli squandered set points in the ninth game and the Slovakian tied the set at 5-5. Nevertheless, Pe'er broke Hantuchova once more in the 12th game and sent the match into a deciding set.
The Israeli grabbed control of the match with another break in the fourth game of the third set to take a 3-1 lead, but Hantuchova reeled off four consecutive games and turned the match on its head.
Pe'er fought her way back from the brink of defeat in characteristic fashion and led 6-5 after winning games nine through 11. Excellent serving by the Slovakian evened the set at 6 games apiece and the match had to be decided on a tiebreaker that was claimed by Hantuchova.
"I had a very good tournament," Pe'er summed up. "I defeated three excellent players, especially in the last two rounds, and was within touching distance of the semifinal.
"I will learn from this match and hopefully advance to the semifinals when I next have a chance."
Pe'er and doubles partner Vania King were due to be in action later Thursday when they faced the world's best women's doubles team of Australian Samantha Stosur and American Lisa Raymond in the quarterfinals.
Ram and Erlich advance to last eight
Andy Ram and Yoni Erlich defeated Spanish duo Nicolas Almagro and Fernando Verdasco 6-4, 6-2, in the second round of the men's doubles on Wednesday and booked a spot in the quarterfinals.
The Israelis, who are seeded sixth at Indian Wells, faced Jarko Nieminen of Finland and Robert Lindstedt of Sweden later Thursday for a place in a semifinal.
The first nine games of their match on Wednesday went according to serve, but Ram and Erlich broke at the right moment and clinched the first set in the 10th game.
In the second set, the Israelis broke the Spaniards three times and booked their place among the last eight of the $2.1 million tournament.
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