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Hantuchova still loves life in desert

She defeats Kuznetsova handily for her second title, with both coming at Indian Wells.

March 18, 2007|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

Daniela Hantuchova's birthplace is Poprad, Slovakia, her residence is Monte Carlo and her home away from home is Indian Wells, site of the Pacific Life Open tennis tournament.

She has won two tournaments in her seven-year career, both at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden. Five years ago, she beat Martina Hingis in the final. Saturday, she defeated 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia, 6-3, 6-4, in the final.

Unlike her previous two matches, where she escaped opponents struggling a bit more than she, Hantuchova played an efficient match, breaking serve twice in the first set and in the fifth game of the second. At no time did her body language or shot-making indicate that she was anything but in total control.

"I had exactly the same feeling I had against Martina in 2002," Hantuchova said. "I just knew I was gonna enjoy myself out there, and not for one second I didn't believe in myself."

After she finished, the 23-year-old grabbed her cellphone and called her mother in Europe, got a busy signal and then got better treatment at the awards ceremony. She was presented with a winner's check of $309,890, the champions diamond bracelet and the crystal Pacific Life whale trophy.

The successful 10 days here has left Hantuchova recharged as she heads for Miami and the second half of the consecutive U.S. almost-majors that fill the tennis calendar in March.

"I can take a lot of confidence with me from this tournament," she said.

She will also take a No. 12 ranking into the Sony-Ericsson, one of her best standings since she made a run all the way to No. 5 in 2002 and finished that year at No. 8.

Kuznetsova helped her ranking as well. Her runner-up finish made her No. 3, her best-ever ranking, and she is the defending champion in Miami.

Kuznetsova pointed out that any result in this tournament had to be tempered by the fact that some of the top players -- Kim Clijsters, Justine Henin, Amelie Mauresmo, for example -- were not here.

Hantuchova, was soaring, eager for a planned celebration.

"I said, if I win the tournament," she said, "we'll have to take one of those [hot air] balloons and fly around a little bit."

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