Cincinnati | Osaka retires, Barty bounces back
Svetlana Kuznetsova, who arrived late onto the North American swing due to visa issues, is making up for lost time by storming through the women’s draw at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
It's crazy! It's crazy, But I promised myself that I gonna take it differently. This is what works for me. I take the losses the same as the wins. Svetlana Kuznetsova
The Russian was unable to defend her Washington title two weeks ago because, despite applying for her US and Canadian visas in February, as of 25 July, they had not been issued.
In an Instagram post, Kuznetsova explained to fans that she would not be able to defend her Citi Open title: “My situation was that I haven’t been playing, and I have been training and I wanted to play a full swing,” she said.
“If I won’t come to the States, what should I do? My ranking is gonna be over 200. I don’t play till the end of the season. To play only China doesn’t make any sense. Or you stop your career.
“So it was lots of things on the line. But it was out of my control.”
After finally getting her visa approved at the 11th hour, Kuznetsova hit the pavement in Toronto and scored two solid wins, including a straight-set victory over Donna Vekic, before losing to Simona Halep.
This week, after defeating Anastasija Sevastova, Dayana Yastremska, and Sloane Stephens, the 34-year-old Russian took out Karolina Pliskova, the World No 3, 3-6 7-6(2) 6-3, to reach her first hardcourt semi-final in Cincy.
It has been a tough 12 months for Kuznetsova, who was forced to skip the early start of the season due to a wrist injury, and then struggled with a knee issue before finally starting her season on the clay in April.
On Friday she put it all behind her, hitting 30 winners and 5 aces, and breaking 3 times to close out the match against the tall Czech after 2 hours and 23 minutes.
Wild-carded into the tournament, Kuznetsova came from behind to oust the No 3 seed.
“It’s crazy! It’s crazy,” Kuznetsova told press after the win. “But I promised myself that I gonna take it differently. This is what works for me. I take the losses the same as the wins.
“So, like, kind of if I give everything out there, so I go out the court and just be happy, because it’s everything goes with tennis.”
Kuznetsova was down a set against Pliskova serving for the match, but she turned things around just in time, finding herself down a break in the second with her opponent serving for the match at 5-4.
With her back against the wall, Kuznetsova mounted an improbable comeback to break Pliskova for the first time and level the score at 5-5.
In the tiebreak the Russian player was in complete control allowing Pliskova just 2 points en route to claiming the second set.
Growing in confidence, Kuznetsova applied pressure and was rewarded with a break for an early 2-1 lead.
She had to fend off 4 break points across 2 games as Pliskova tried to claw her way back, but the Russian held firm and, leading 5-3 in the third, she broke Pliskova once more to book her spot in the semi-finals.
It was also her third three-setter from four matches played in Cincy, and her fourth tiebreak set so far.
“Each match I [won], so with [Anastasija] Sevastova first round, with [Dayana] Yastremska, with Sloane [Stephens] was a little bit more easier, I just hang in there,” Kuznetsova reflected. “I guess it was good to have some time off, because I have been missing.
“Now I don’t know. I think I’m just matured and I just trying to play point by point.”
Up next, Kuznetsova will take on top seed Ashleigh Barty in the next round as she seeks a spot in the final.
Barty again found herself a set down before finding a solution to the problem like Maria Sakkari, coming back in some style to defeat the Greek, 5-7 6-2 6-0 earlier in the day to advance.
“She’s great player,” Kuznetsova said. “I never play her in the matches. I practice her but way before.
“I think it’s going to be so different matchup. I think she’s really interesting player, like, she combines different styles and very interesting games.
“It’s going to be really another test for myself. But I just go out there with the same focus to fight every ball and to see what’s going on.”
Barty is now in a position to snatch back the No 1 ranking heading into the Open following the retirement of Naomi Osaka, after the Japanese withdrew from her quarter-final against 20-year old American Sofia Kenin.
The US Open champion left the court worried about whether she would be in shape to defend her Grand Slam title, and is expected now to get an MRI.
“Last year, I won the US Open,” she said. “This year, I’m trying to play the US Open.”
The problem came out of the blue.
Osaka split two sets with Kenin when she felt something unusual in the knee while serving early in the third set.
After a timeout to have it examined and wrapped, she played a couple more points before conceding the match.
“I have no idea what’s going on,” she admitted as Kenin advanced to the semi-finals for the second straight week.
During her run to the semi-finals in Toronto, the American dispatched the then No 1 Barty in an early upset that allowed Osaka to move up to the top ranking.
Barty’s win over Sakkari on Friday was an encouraging all-around effort for the amiable Aussie.
“Still not quite there, but we’re getting better and better each match,” the French Open champion said with a smile.
“I think that’s the beauty of being able to stay alive in the tournament, is to give myself an opportunity to keep getting better.
“I think I’m still aiming to obviously do very well here, but the big picture is New York in 10 days’ time.”
She needs some work on dropping those first sets, though.
Barty got ahead 5-2 in her opening set and then got sloppy, letting it slip away.
She had to fight off a match point during her three-set win over Anett Kontaveit on Thursday, showing the mettle that she needed to draw on again a day later.
“There is certainly no panic, where it gets to the stage where I’m kind of overwrought or can’t think straight,” she said.
“I’m still able to, more times than not, have the ability to relax and kind of stay clear, and come back to what works.”
Completing the last four is Madison Keys, who came to Cincinnati with 3 straight losses and is now in her second semi-final of the season, after Charleston, thanks to a commanding 6-2 6-3 victory over compatriot Venus Williams in an hour and 18 minutes.
Keys, the 16th seed, saved both break points she faced to keep her service games intact and mounted pressure on the unseeded veteran, who couldn’t produce the level of tennis that dispatched Donna Vekic on Thursday, dropping almost half of the points in her service games and getting broken 3 times from the 8 chances given to Keys.
Settling into a great rhythm from the get-go, Keys sailed through her service games in the opener and broke Williams in games 4 and 8 to pocket the set, 6-2, then securing another break at 4-3 in set number two to forge the crucial lead and cement the win with a hold to love a few minutes later.
The semi-final line-up on Saturday is Barty (1) against Kuznetsova, and Keys (16) taking on Kenin.