Svet Success: Kuznetsova Knocks Out No. 1 Mauresmo To Reach Miami Final
Photo By Fred Mullane By Richard Pagliaro
Another framed forehand rattled off the racquet of Amelie Mauresmo and the world No. 1 stared down at the face of her Dunlop frame and shook it in frustration as if trying to free it from the errors that were streaming from her strings and find some solutions for the forehands Svetlana Kuznetsova continued to pound into the corners of the court during the opening set of today's Nasdaq-100 Open semifinals.
A quizzical Mauresmo kept trying to pose questions, but Kuznetsova had all the answers.
In a commanding performance that saw her dictate play with her favored forehand, the 12th-seeded Kuznetsova cracked 33 winners and did not drop serve in crushing Mauresmo, 6-1, 6-4, to advance to her first Nasdaq-100 Open final. Playing her third semifinal of the season, Kuznetsova, who reached the final four in Sydney and Dubai, surged into her first final of the the year. It was Kuznetsova's second straight win over Mauresmo, who beat the 2004 U.S. Open champion in their first four meetings before Kuznetsova broke through with a 7-6(11), 6-4, triumph in last month's Dubai quarterfinals.
Drawing on that victory — as well as watching a pre-match DVD replay of her dramatic 3-6, 6-1, 7-6(9) victory over former World No. 1 Martina Hingis in a memorable two hour, 26-minute third-round match on Sunday — gave Kuznetsova the confidence to take the match to Mauresmo from the first shot today.
"Sometimes you beat a player and you know more or less how you got to play against her," Kuznetsova said. "I knew I had to play my forehand against her. In the past, I was losing because I didn't believe in myself. Today, I started very well. Amelie started to play better in the second set. I hung in there and I'm very happy with the way I played today. I was a bit nervous in the morning so I watched the DVD of (the) Hingis (match)."
Kuznetsova might consider popping a DVD of today's semifinal into her laptop before taking on either fourth-seeded Maria Sharapova or 22nd-seeded Tatiana Golovin in Saturday's final. Kuznetsova and Sharapova have split their four career meetings with Sharapova scoring successive victories in their last two matches, including a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory in the 2005 Australian Open quarterfinals. They will share the same side of the court in the doubles semifinals when Mauresmo and Kuznetsova played the top-seeded team of Lisa Raymond and Samantha Stosur in Friday's doubles semifinals, but Kuznetsova often pushed her partner beyond the boundaries of the singles lines today.
Competing with the consistency that has often eluded her since she became the lowest-seeded woman to win the U.S. Open in the Open Era in 2004, Kuznetsova is now one win from claiming her first tournament title since whe won the Tier III Bali title in September of 2004.
"I think you can see she was not giving too many free points so these things tell you how consistent she's getting," Mauresmo said. "She's lost some weight and she's quick to the ball."
Running around her backhand whenever she could with the short, precise preparation steps she honed on the red clay of the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona, Kuznetsova crafted a powerful pattern of play throughout the first set. Cornering Mauresmo with a flurry of inside-out forehands that pinned the French woman into protecting her backhand, Kuznetsova patiently awaited the inevitable short ball before taking short, swift steps to her left, setting her feet and unloading untouchable forehand winners down the line.
That potent one-two punch carried Kuznetsova to a 5-0 lead. Ripping returns and looking to leap on any short ball, Kuznetsova won 10 of the 17 points played on Mauresmo's serve before Mauresmo finally held in the sixth game. It was a short-lived reprieve as Kuznetsova closed out the opening set with yet another forceful forehand; she hit 12 winners compared to two for Mauresmo in the opening set.
Entering this encounter with a 23-3 record on the season, Mauresmo had avenged two of her losses — a second-round setback to Ana Ivanovic and a loss to Nadia Petrova in the Doha final — in the preceding rounds as she scored a 7-5, 6-2 victory over Ivanovic in the round of 16 before pounding Petrova, 6-3, 6-1, in the quarterfinals. While Mauresmo had revenge on her mind, Kuznetsova refused to give up ground in the baseline exchanges.
Unable to defend against the onslaught, the reigning Australian Open champion changed up her tactics in the second set and began to move forward into the court in an effort to take the net away from her doubles partner. In the third game of the second set, a Kuznetsova backhand pass was ruled good, but Mauresmo challenged the call, replay showed the shot was wide and the challenge helped Mauresmo save a break point. Mauresmo let out a primal scream in an effort to pump herself up, but could not shout down the screaming winners from Kuznetsova's racquet.
"She's one of two or three players hitting the ball the hardest of anybody," Mauresmo said. "She played really well. I started to serve-and-volley because I couldn't play deep enough to really annoy her."
Undaunted, Kuznetsova scored the crucial break in the seventh game when Mauresmo ran around her backhand and flailed a forehand into net to drop serve at 30. Kuznetsova consolidated when she measured a forehand, stepped inside the baseline and swatted a forehand winner down the line to hold for 5-3. Mauresmo saved a match point in the ninth game, but Kuznetsova converted her third match point in the next game, shuffling to her left then firing a forehand winner down the line to close out an impressive victory. With the win, Kuznetsova raised her record to 16-4 on the season with her lone losses coming to three former No. 1 players — Justine Henin-Hardenne (Sydney and Dubai), Lindsay Davenport (Australian Open) and Martina Hingis (Doha). Should Kuznetsova hoist the title trophy on Saturday she will displace the MIA Venus Williams for the 10th spot in the WTA Tour rankings, marking her first entry into the top 10 since September 11, 2005. If she loses the final, Kuznetsova will be ranked 11th when the new WTA Tour rankings are released on Monday.
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