Kuznetsova kills off Caro in Melbourne

Svetlana Kuznetsova, coming off a six month injury-induced break, faced Caroline Wozniacki, now ranked ten and defending quarterfinal points in Melbourne, in the last sixteen of the Australian Open. The Russian was playing to climb back up the rankings from the seventies where she currently dwells while the Dane was playing to halt her slide from number one that began a year ago on the very same Rod Laver Arena.
Only two weeks ago, Sveta won their match in Sydney, reducing her deficit in their head to head to 3-5. Like that encounter, the two split the first two sets. As she did in Sydney, Sveta came out hitting big ground strokes. booming down serves and coming to the net, the Russian reminding us why her name is engraved on the US and French Open trophies. The second set was all Wozniacki as she waited for the first dip in Sveta’s form and then pounced, moving Sveta around, chasing down every ball, and getting the errors, playing the tennis that brought her the number one ranking for 67 weeks. But it was not all defense as Wozniacki played more aggressively than she had during her reign, hitting her twelth winner of the match in the set, a vital addition that critics demanded she implement in order to win a Major; however, while it has yielded some great performances and a couple of titles, it has not delivered her that elusive Major or helped her climb back into the higher echelons of the top ten. She is now, naturally, more prone to make errors as she goes for big shots in points where once she would have just gotten the ball in play and waited for the error, which against players like Sveta, had worked wonders. Now she is going for more winners, but while she may have won in Moscow and Seoul at the end of last season, her results across the board have not improved. And she is still reluctant to go for winners when matters get tight, her natural defense coming into play, thus not really reaping the rewards of a change in style. Still, she persists with the new style with the same tenacity that she plays with, the tenacity that got her to the pinnacle of the game in the first place, the tenacity that saw her become one of the hardest players to beat on the tour. Ask Sveta about that.
Twice Wozniacki has come from a set down to beat Sveta, if she could maintain her level of play, she could make it a third. Sveta’s comfort break did not do anything to disturb Wozniacki’s momentum, breaking Sveta at the start of the third but the Russian broke back immediately. Serving at 1-2, Sveta saved five break points held by the Dane, saving the first and second with a sublime drop shot and a lob which had spectators wondering just why she had not won more than her two Majors. Sveta had to save another two set points serving at 2-3. The first she saved with a down the tee service winner. The second with another service down the tee followed by a big forehand, then another big forehand cracked down the line for a winner.
Withstanding the pressure put on by an opponent who has made her career out of applying it quite liberally, Kuznetsova took the long deuce game, briefly interrupted by a confrontation between Wozniacki and the Umpire. Wozniacki claimed to be disturbed by a linesman call that a Sveta service was out, a call overruled by the umpire, and a call that had come after she had sent the return into the net. Asking the Umpire if he had ever played tennis, and telling him he would understand her if he had, the Dane seemed to be the one who was teetering on the edge of this encounter.
At 3-4, Wozniacki had another break point, saved by the Russian as she hit two backhand volleys, the second for a winner, her doubles prowess on show. Another game where she was under pressure survived as Wozniacki netted a forehand error and it was 4-4. Now it was Sveta’s time to apply some pressure, holding a break point. Wozniacki fired down a service winner. Deuce. Sveta performed a drop shot and winning passing shot combination that had the purists purring. Break point. Wozniacki attacked her opponent with her groundstrokes, drawing a backhand error from a Sveta who was close to doing the splits at the back of the court. The Deuce game went on, Wozniacki went toe to toe with Sveta in the rallies and finally held her serve, her increased aggression paying off.
5-5 and memories were stirred of their 2009 US Open encounter which was decided on a final set tiebreaker, a match where Sveta had big chances to win but crumbled under the pressure. A forehand error from Woznaicki as she went for a winner, a backhand volley from Kuznetsova, and a pace-laden backhand down-the-line winner and Sveta inched closer to getting a measure of revenge as she held three break points, her aggressive manner too much for the Dane. Wozniacki saved the first as she went for broke on her forehand, going cross-court and forcing an error from Sveta. The Dane saved the next one as Kuznetsova hit a forehand error on the service return. One more break point to save. But now it was the Wozniacki forehand’s turn to break down as Sveta cracked an inside out forehand down the line and Wozniacki netted the return.
Sveta had the break and would serve for the match. This was not a guarantee she would win it, though. Fans have sat through countless matches where Sveta has led and then needed someone to perform the hiemlich maneuver on her but tennis being an individual sport she was left to spit out the prospect of victory, now chewed into a big ball of defeat, herself. Sveta fired down a service winner. 15-0. On the next point, she cracked a forehand down the line, moved in and then drove a forehand volley at the net. 30-0. The prospect of winning seemed to be going down the right hole this time. A forehand winner down the line from Wozniacki, keeping up the aggression in her bid to break, and it was 30-15. Shuffles could be heard as Dr. Heimlich began to make his move, unable to bear another attack when she had done so well to make it so far back. A cross-court backhand from mid-court pulled Wozniacki out wide and had her on the stretch to get her racket on the ball, the result being an error and two match points for the quarterfinal for Sveta. The Dr took a step back and looked on. Sveta struck her service down the tee, flew in and then blitzed the short return down the line for a winner.
The Dr and Sveta’s fans will be on hand for her quarter-final against Azarenka, the defending champion. Sveta will have her work cut out to remove the crown from Azarenka’s head, but if there is anyone to do it then there are few better than players who have worn crowns themselves and would not mind another one. And when Sveta plays as she has been doing this week, then who is to say she could not go as far as moving another step closer to the throne.

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Christian Deverille

Christian Deverille is a tennis writer with a diploma in Freelance Sports Writing from the London School of Journalism. He loves all things tennis, most of all the Federer and del Potro forehands.
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