Svetlana Kuznetsova: 599 wins and counting, in hard-won surge to WTA Finals semis

It is easy to forget just how long the impressive Russian has been at the top of her game

Following the remarkable progress of the 31-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova over the past few weeks, it is easy to forget just how long the impressive Russian has been at the top of her game.

She marked her 18th birthday with a quarter-final run at Wimbledon in only her second appearance. She was still a teenager when she won her first
Grand Slam title, the US Open, and went on to make the final of the French Open at 20—winning at Roland Garros three years later.

In doubles, she reached the final of all four Majors while still a teenager, winning in Australia in 2005, and again seven years later.

And when it comes to national honours, her story has been just as enduring.

She was part of the winning Fed Cup team at 19, and a stalwart of her nation’s squad through two more titles, a further two finals, and three more semi-finals. She first played in the Olympics in 2004, making the quarter-finals, and reached the quarters in doubles in Rio this summer—a span of 12 years.

Kuznetsova never quite made it to No1 in the world, topping out at No2, and she never quite made a splash at the end-of-season finale, the WTA Championships, in five qualifications. She lost at the round-robin stage each time, and had not even qualified since 2009—until now.

And now, she has become the talk of the WTA Finals. Quite simply, her efforts in reaching Singapore were exceptional, and then her efforts in reaching the semis in the competition for the first time impressed all over again.

She began 2016 with a bang, winning in Sydney, and last week, she won a second title in a single season for the first time since 2009. But her 17th career title, coming appropriately enough in the Kremlin Cup, proved to be especially significant.

The Moscow title was the culmination of four back-to-back tournaments since the US Open, a month comprising 15 matches that began with the semis in Wuhan, took in another semi finish in Tianjin, before hot-footing it back to Moscow. There, she had to win the title to beat Johanna Konta to the eighth and last qualifying place in Singapore—and she did just that.

But then came the frantic dash back to the Far East, the adjustment back to new conditions, and the recovery from jet lag twice over.

Her Moscow adventure, which incidentally included two gruelling three-setters, was, of course, the first topic of conversation as she hit her hurried pre-tournament press, but she batted away any sympathy.

“I think my body already adjusted to that, because from Tianjin, played three sets [twice, in the quarters and semis]. The same night I jump on the plane and come to Moscow and start to practise straightaway then I played in two days.

“Then the same thing happened [in Moscow]. During the tournament I felt a bit fatigued because I’ve been playing long matches, but on the final I was already better. Today I have a day off. It’s already like a miracle for me that I have day off!

“I’m just looking to tomorrow. When I go on the court I try not to think about my fatigue and I believe I can put it aside.”

She proved her point. The oldest woman of the Singapore eight first beat defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in her first match, 7-5, 1-6, 7-5. Then Kuznetsova came back from a set down to beat Karolina Pliskova, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6.

And that qualified her at the top of the White Group irrespective of the result of her third match against Garbine Muguruza. In that, she still won the first set, before wearily fading in the second and third, 6-3, 0-6, 1-6.

That took her tally of three-set matches to 31 this year and she has won a WTA-leading 22 of them. She is also now just one match-win short of 600, something that only four other active women on the tour have achieved: Venus Williams, Serena Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Maria Sharapova. It is elite company indeed—but none of them are in Singapore this week.

Things certainly get no easier in this most demanding week of the tennis tour: No more day of rest for Kuznetsova but straight into the semi-final showdowns tomorrow. She will play the second semi-finalist in the Red Group, Dominika Cibulkova, at around 4pm.

Will she pick up that 600th win? Well if it has anything to do with hard work, she may well do so. She put it thus:

“I mean talent, we can put it always aside. Talent without hard work and dedication won’t work for sure. Hard work always got to be there. I mean, without this thinking… and trying to fight every ball, it wouldn’t work. Sometimes, being very strong and believing mentally, it helps a lot.”

The other semi-final, Saturday evening, will pitch the as-yet-unbeaten No1 Angelique Kerber against either Radwanska or Pliskova.

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