Odd One In: Unraveling Svetlana Kuznetsova
After a years-long drought, Svetlana Kuznetsova is into her biggest final since winning the inaugural Beijing Premier Mandatory event in 2009. The Russian battled through a week of grueling matches and quality wins — including one over defending champion Maria Sharapova — and will next face a fellow two-time Grand Slam Champion in Petra Kvitova to determine the 2015 Mutua Madrid Open championship.
Some players just have a way of coming out of left-field. 2009 French Open Champion Svetlana Kuznetsova has survived match points, final set tiebreaks, and tough challenges from Garbine Muguruza, Samantha Stosur and Lucie Safarova.
“I had no pressure in my any of my matches. I need all my points about me in the ranking, but it doesn’t really matter, you know.”, the 29-year-old said after her three-set win over Safarova.
“Pressure is we make ourselves. The press make pressure. It’s my thing to take it or take it away from me. I don’t care. What I know is to play the ball, play tennis. That’s my life and I enjoy it.”
Enjoy it, she has. In a span of just under 36 hours, the St. Petersburg native fought through back-to-back three-hour marathons, capping off her unlikely run to the finals in emphatic style by taking out World No. 3 Maria Sharapova in a fairly straightforward semifinal.
But Kuznetsova’s career has hardly ever been straightforward. Matching with a natural ballstriking ability with every shot in the game at her disposal, the former US Open champion can work and manipulate the entire court to her favor, able to alternate between heavy topspin forehands and flattened out groundstrokes. This variety, combined with her great speed around the court and seamless transitions between offense and defense are ultimately most effective on the clay, a surface she has called home ever since moving to Barcelona’s Sanchez-Casal Academy at 13.
While many consider her to be among the most talented women in the game, the mental aspect of tennis has often been Kuznetsova’s Achilles’ Heel. Given an easy put-away in the forecourt, the depth of the former No. 2’s variety allows her so many options to finish a point that her head short-circuits.
The ball eventually lands in the net, the tramlines or somewhere closer to the back fence than the court.
When it all comes together, much as it has this week, the Russian is all but unbeatable. In a way, it seems fitting that in Saturday’s Mutua Madrid Open final features the Russian and a similarly streaky player in Petra Kvitova.
“The difference I think I was very consistent. I served well. Today was very important, especially like 5-4 to close the match,” Kuznetsova said, analyzing her upset of Sharapova on Friday.
A lack of consistency — along with several injuries, most notably a serious knee issue in 2012 — has seen Kuznetsova’s ranking see-saw up and down, both in between her two major runs and in the years following her French Open victory in 2009. The stark contrast between playing lights out tennis one week and struggling to bottle that form the next has added to Kuznetsova’s infamy as the WTA Tour’s most enigmatic figure. Against all odds, none of that shook her confidence, nor her belief that there will be more opportunities along the way.
“I always knew I will have a chance. I never was like in a stage where like something else was supposed to decide it for me. I knew I will.
“For me it’s important to have my will and to have this power of concentration and will, a wish to play tennis, to do it good. There are stable players who play very consistent; I am not one of them. That’s not news for you probably, and for me as well.
I still do work hard every day. I’m just not consistent. I try to be. But I accept myself wherever I am, and whoever I am. And the benefit of fighting and working hard, it’s always in tennis you get it back somehow.”
The Russian can be philosophical, but can also see the lighter side to her on-court vicissitudes, putting herself in a fan’s shoes and poking fun at her career’s ups and downs.
“I think sometimes, if I would be a fan I wouldn’t be my fan, because you never know what to expect. You’re like you can beat anyone and then you can do some weird stuff.
“But I appreciate the support. I have many fans who follow me for many years. It really helps sometimes. You read so many negative commentaries, and it’s ridiculous, I think. I’m just the player I am. I cannot be another one. I wish I could. Maybe not.”
It’s undoubtedly difficult to fully unravel Svetlana Kuznetsova’s on-court persona – but maybe we don’t have to. Maybe it’s better if we accept — much like she does — that week in week out consistency isn’t her biggest forté, and to expect the unexpected.
But as long as Kuznetsova can still display the tennis she has in the Spanish capital, who are we to complain? All we can do is sit back, and watch the Russian work some of her signature clay-court magic — even if a spell or two end up going awry.
What do you make of Kuznetsova’s run in Madrid? Sound off in the comments!
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