Kuznetsova - rising up the rankings
KUZNETSOVA BOOSTS RUSSIAN REVOLUTION By Mark Staniforth, PA Sport
Svetlana Kuznetsova is the latest Russian to spearhead her country's assault on the top of women's tennis.
The 18-year-old Muscovite reached number 14 in the world rankings this week after a breakthrough fortnight in the Middle East.
Last year's surprise Wimbledon quarter-finalist has barely broken stride since joining the senior circuit.
Successful and educational doubles pairings with veteran legends Martina Navratilova and Todd Woodbridge are clearly beginning to pay off.
Kuznetsova has won the WTA's performance of the week award for two weeks running, following her Dubai quarter-final win over Venus Williams by becoming the first player to snap Justine Henin-Hardenne's winning streak this week.
The Belgian world number one had won all 16 of her matches this year until Kuznetsova came from a set behind to reach the final in Doha.
"I believed in myself," said Kuznetsova. "I knew I could win the match. You get experience from playing the top players."
Kuznetsova's is not a stereotypical story of overbearing parents thrusting a tennis racket into daughter's hands before she can walk.
She grew up in Moscow in a family of cyclists and admits she was largely oblivious to the new trend begun by stars like Anna Kournikova and Marat Safin.
Only in her early teens did Kuznetsova belatedly begin to excel enough to earn a scholarship at the famous Emilio Sanchez Academy in Spain.
But she admits that having reached a competitive level the influx of young Russian rivals only helped spur her on to success.
Kuznetsova is only the fifth-ranked Russian at number 14, behind Anastasia Myskina - who beat her in Qatar - Elena Dementieva, Vera Zvonareva and Nadia Petrova. Five more Russians take the total to 10 in the top 100.
Kutnetsova said: "I think there is no doubt the success is because we are so many.
"We compete against each other because everybody wants to prove they are the best in their country.
"One person gets good results and the other wants to do better. We are very competitive but it is all positive. We are friends with each other - but when we get on court we fight.
"It is also because of the mentality. It is very tough practising in Russia and you never have sponsorship. There is a lot of talent but you have to get lucky."
In Kuznetsova's case she admits she has been boosted by the close attention of a player almost 30 year her senior.
Navratilova has helped Kuznetsova garner 10 doubles titles already, including two this year.
And the young Russian admits she is lucky to have such a legend on her side as she begins to focus on cracking the top 10.
"I learn a lot from Martina - I learn and learn. She shows me lots of things.
"She explains what she thinks about my game and what I can do to get better."
© Jorge Ferrari
Players Quickly Taking Notice of Kuznetsova
INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - After Svetlana Kuznetsova's performances over the last two weeks, there's probably more than just a few players at this week's Pacific Life Open who paid closer attention to where the Russian was in the draw. "I’m enjoying playing my game now," said Kuznetsova, who is the No.12 seed this week in Indian Wells. "I do not feel any pressure with the attention I’m getting. I love people to come and watch me. That’s what we do, we play for people and I want to play my best and be able to give them a good show."
Although she won two singles titles back in 2002 (Helsinki, Bali), it was rather clear from the first week that this was the year that Kuznetsova's game was ready to move to a new level. Despite a first round setback in Hobart, the 18-year-old reached the quarterfinals in Gold Coast and fought through a tough straight sets loss to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the third round at the Australian Open.
Kuznetsova, who resides in her birthplace of St. Petersburg, took the next four weeks off before having her first true breakthrough of the season in Dubai, marching through to the final, but not before a bit of commotion along the way. She began the week by upsetting No.7 seed Francesca Schiavone and two rounds later made the stunning upset of No.2 seed Venus Williams.
Her semifinal match saw another seed pushed aside, this time No.5 Ai Sugiyama falling victim to the Russian's thunderous game before a rematch with Henin-Hardenne awaited Kuznetsova in the final. The two battled to a tiebreak in the first set before the World No.1 emerged from the first set and finished off the match in the second.
The loss to Henin-Hardenne didn't derail Kuznetsova's spirits and she only showed up stronger the following week in Doha, losing only seven games in wins against Stephanie Cohen-Aloro and Anca Barna. Meghann Shaughnessy was lucky enough to take the first set in their quarterfinal clash before the Russian ignited to blaze into the semifinals.
Once again, there sat Henin-Hardenne - riding a 16-match winning streak and the only person on Tour looking more invincible at the moment than Kuznetsova. But this time, a confident Kuznetsova handed Henin-Hardenne her first loss of the year and marched into a title match for the second straight week.
Kuznetsova began the year at No.36 in the world, but her recent back-to-back championship match appearances have pushed her all the way to a career-best No.14.
"It’s good to have a ranking goal, but for me, the most important thing is to keep improving my game and my concentration, the rankings will follow," Kuznetsova said. "At the beginning of the year, I was aiming at the Top 20, I didn’t expect to reach it so fast. I am playing well at the moment and I am enjoying these past two weeks."
One of Kuznetsova's big inspirations this year has been former doubles partner and current mentor (as part of the WTA Tour's Partners For Success program) Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario. Kuznetsova teamed with Sanchez-Vicario to win three doubles titles in 2002 and the former World No.1 has been a big motivator this season.
"She is my mentor on and off the court," Kuznetsova said. "I spoke to her tonight right after my match (against Justine). She’s always giving me advice. I can talk to her about anything whether it’s tennis or anything else. She also made me more confident and believed in me. When she asked me to play doubles with her, I was very honored."
Kuznetsova, who is currently ranked No.5 in doubles, was also honored when tennis legend Martina Navratilova personally approached Sanchez-Vicario and asked if she could start playing with Kuznetsova once the Spaniard retired at the end of the 2002 season.
"Martina has also always been good to me," Kuznetsova said. "She taught me a lot, mainly to have a better attitude during matches and to be positive. She also told me to move more forward, and to come to the net, serve and volley. I try to do this now. Basically, she’s taught me to be more professional."
Playing alongside two of tennis' greatest players has surely benefitted the 18-year-old, but having a family pedigree filled with athletic greatness definitely plays a part in Kuznetsova's drive to become successful in her line of work.
Kuznetsova's father, Alexandr, has been the cycling coach to five Olympic champions and world champions and is currently the coach of Lokomotiv, the best cycling club in Russia. Her mother, Galina Tsareva is a six-time world champion and holder of 20 world records. Even brother Nikolai has found second-generation success, picking up a silver medal at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta.
"I’m Russian and I would love to do well for my country," Kuznetsova said. "Olympics have always been a passion in my family. My father went, my brother went and won a silver medal. My mother, who won six world championships, never went although it was her dream to go. She was not able to go. So now, I also want to do this for my mother. It will make her so so proud and happy."
Kuznetsova's leap in the rankings definitely can't hurt her chances of reaching this summer's Olympic Games in Athens as a singles participant. She's also already began preparations on the doubles side, pairing this year with countrywoman Elena Likhovtseva. The duo are currently in the top position of the Porsche Race to the Championships Team standings and have won titles in Gold Coast and Doha.