Kuznetsova's fighting spirit lifts her to new heights
From Neil Harman, Tennis Correspondent, in New York
NI_MPU('middle');WHO is next? After Anastasia Myskina and Maria Sharapova, it was the turn of Svetlana Kuznetsova to extend Russia’s bear hug on women’s grand-slam tournaments in 2004. She is more the hammer than the sickle, a free-swinging ball-cruncher whose response to walking out to play in the US Open final was: “Wow, now what should I do here today?”
Once she had made up her mind that winning the championship might not be a bad thing, Kuznetsova got on with the task of defeating Elena Dementieva, her compatriot, 6-3, 7-5, using her knuckle-duster forehand to brutal effect. Kuznetsova was not, in the manner of Amélie Mauresmo and Jennifer Capriati, going to fall for Dementieva’s mess of a serve; she stepped in and treated it with the disdain it merited.
At least Dementieva did not crumble, as she had done in the French Open final against Myskina. She gave as much as she could when having to play, in the metaphorical sense, with one hand tied behind her back. That is almost where she completes her service action from, with its wide-arc toss that forces her to throw her racket arm at least 45 degrees farther out than she should. “I really need to have a better serve to win a grand slam,” she said, a statement of the obvious if ever there was one.
It is the eighth wonder of the world that Dementieva has managed to reach two grand-slam tournament finals with a fundamental of the game in such disarray. More often than not, the third stroke of a rally is her strong suit, given that she can nail a decent groundstroke if her opponent miscues, having gawked in disbelief at a serve that is so puny. But she has to play so much on the defensive in every rally that it has to take a toll.
Kuznetsova was eager to go for the jugular. Those closest to her had been telling the 19-year-old for months that she had it in her to be a champion. She had lost 8-6 in the final set of a fourth-round match to Myskina at the French Open, having had a match point; she went on to win the Hastings Direct Championship at Eastbourne, only to fall at the first hurdle at Wimbledon to Virginie Razzano, of France. But, in the manner of her parents, both international cyclists, she pulled herself together and returned to the saddle.
The reward was a cheque for $1 million (about £555,300), the largest in the women’s grand-slam events, a highest ranking of No 6 and universal acclaim. She is not going to be the darling of the popular press in the Sharapova mould, her game is not one blessed with aesthetic beauty, but it gets the job done and she made hay while, for the first time in the Open era, not one of the top four seeds made the semi-finals. There has been plenty of change in the rankings. Mauresmo is the new No 1, although she has played in only one grand-slam final, in Australia five years ago; Justine Henin-Hardenne is not what she was and Lindsay Davenport, who would have returned to the top had her hip not given out in a warm-up before her semi-final, does not know how long she can remain a force. Kim Clijsters, who has missed the past three slams with a wrist injury, was pounding balls on the practice court last week and there are the Williams sisters whose father, Richard, said in one interview that he thinks they should quit now because officialdom does not want them around in tennis any more