So much smarter: Kuznetsova wins the title in Sydney

Sveta is primed to upset Vika.

APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY, Jan. 15, 2016 – Svetlana Kuznetsova has been around for a very long time, with 2004 the first year she served notice on the tennis world.

She lost early in New Zealand, losing in the second round, and she was not considered the favorite at Sydney. But she got her feet wet, took out Sabine Lisicki and Sara Errani, and on Friday, she had to knock out two competitions to win the title, No. 2 Simone Halep and Monica Puig.

On a bizarre day on Thursday, it was hot and sunny in the morning, but then the whipping rain came and pretty much wiped out play. Halep was on serve 5-4 in the first set. In the other semis, Puig was up 4-0 over Belinda Bencic.

On Friday, the rain was coming in and out, so the women came on court ASAP. Bencic said she was ill and she was throwing up, so she was retired down 6-0. But even though Halep has been a little bit afraid due to her sore Achilles Heel, she wanted to run around as fast as she could. The Romanian fought very hard, but the Russian won the match 7-6 (5), 4-6, 6-3. Kuznetsova has so much variety. She twisted, she sliced, she spun and she blasted inside the lines.

A few hours later, she and Puig went on court and before the youngest competitor new it, she was gone, 6-0, 6-2. Kuznetsova was in the zone. These days, she is so much smarter than she used to be.

“I’m mature. I know how to listen to myself,” the 30 year old said. “That’s probably the biggest improvement. I just listen to myself. Because sometimes you look for other people to tell you what to do or kind of expecting the opinion of somebody. What’ most important is what you are inside, what you feel like and what’s important to you. When you know more or less yourself, you don’t get angry when you don’t do so well. Just some balance which is within you. This is what I feel, and I feel that my game is in different stage. I can do this different variety, whatever it is, of my shots because I’m able to. So I kind of analyze more myself.”

Back in 2004, few people knew who Kuznetsova was outside of Russia, but once people saw her, they could see how powerful she was and how much spin she put on the ball. At Roland Garros, she was running around, slicing, chopping, and rolling his thunderous forehand. In the fourth round, she held a few match points against the No. 5 Anastasia Myskina, but she could not push her way. Her now very good friend Myskina won the tournament, and it looked like Kuznetsova was down in the dumps, but after a few weeks later, the then 19-year-old picked up where she left off.

At the US Open, she was a thoroughbred, streaking past Mary Pierce, Nadia Petrova, Lindsay Davenport and Elena Dementieva to win the title. She had risen quickly.

However, in the next year, she began to slump because there was too much pressure, too soon. Too many people were talking about her and she didn’t like it. It took her four years to rise up again. In 2008, she reached five finals, including Sydney. She wasn’t totally there yet, but she was much more consistent. In 2009, she took off, winning Roland Garros.

How good was she in Paris? She knocked off Aga Radwanska, Serena Williams (7-5 in the third set), Sam Stosur (another dramatic three sets) and Dinara Safina to snare the crown. She knew exactly what she wanted to do.

But the reality is that since then, she has been pretty darn good, but overall, she has not been great. She has won 15 singles title and 16 doubles title, which is just fine, but she has been so unpredictable. Look at the 30-year-old in 2015: in the first four months, she didn’t win three matches in a row until May, when reached the final in Madrid, stunning Lucie Safarova and Maria Sharapova. She looked terrific, moving fast, mixing it up, and smacking her balls deep and skipping around. In the final, her legs were gone and she couldn’t move against Petra Kvitova.

But it looked like she was going to charge again.

Kuznetsova has a load of experience, but she can drop off fast. That she did, for no reason at all. She lost early at Wimbledon and at the US Open. Kuznetsova didn’t go deep either in Asia. She was getting a little tired and ready for the season to end. But the tournament directors asked her to come to Moscow. She hemmed and hawed. She decided to go and all of a sudden, she was happy. Who knows why? She wasn’t glum as she had a huge smile on her face when she won the event.

Moscow get my confidence in the end of the year, so probably that’s why also an easier start this year,” she said. “I still remember the feeling playing good and comfortable against players on the court. To explain something why it’s really hard. First of all, I didn’t want to play Moscow. I was in China three, four weeks. I was just like, Oh, my God. I can’t wait until this season will be over. But then I came back home and I was like, ‘Okay, it’s one of my favorite events. I would like to play it. Last moment I decide, Okay, I’ll play.’

Then when I get win and win and win, and when you win, and then they offer me to go to Zhuhai [in China] to play. I was like, ‘Okay, I’ll go to Zhuhai.’ So in end of year I was just going with the flow. Whatever wind was blowing I was going. So it just happen like that. I don’t know. I just decided that it’s easier for me than force something.”

Kuznetsova says that she played too many events last year. She wants to be calmer and not be playing every week. We will see. But, when she on, she can be lethal and she will battle until the last ball. Remember the 2011 Australian Open? In the third round against Francesca Schiavone, she survived 6-4 1-6 16-14 after holding six match points and finally winning after four hours, 44 minutes. She just wouldn’t give up.

Kuznetsova has yet to win the Australian Open, but she has reached the quarters three times. She has a very tough draw. She has to face with the former No. 4 Daniela Hantuchova in the first round. She might have to face Bencic in the third round, and maybe have to go up against her friend, Maria Sharapova, in the fourth round. If she shocks Sharapova, then she might face Serena in the quarters. Wow, now that would be difficult, but whomever she plays, she just likes to strike the ball.

I never dream of winning one. I never thought winning one,” she said. “It just happens behind hard work, effort, and just having pleasure playing tennis. To me. I’m not saying it’s good way for somebody else. If I have this opportunity and I can take it, I would love to. I would be extremely happy. If not, my life not going to end on it. But still, I love the game. I’m enjoying what I’m doing. It’s great I can still win titles.
I don’t feel old at all.”


Kerber goes on the Offense, while Tomic Learns to Focus

Kerber IW 12 MALT3184

Angie is trying to become a risk taker.


FROM THE APIA INTERNATIONAL SYDNEY – Angelique Kerber has been a very good, but not great player since 2011, when she came out of nowhere and reached the US Open semifinals. After that, and a very solid 2012, it appeared that lefthander really did have Grand Slam winning potential. She is naturally strong, is a terrific mover and  is a standout defensive player. She has good but not great serve, but that is not uncommon on the WTA tour. She has world class two-handed backhand that she can slap into the corners.  But her forehand has lacked some oomph, as has her return. Playing standout defense propelled her into the year-end top 5 in 2012, but her lack of improvement in 2013 saw her drop to the No.9 ranking, which is where she is now.

Pro tennis is not all about aggression, but if you look at the WTA’s top three of Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova, it does require some high octane offense.

That is what Kerber knew she had to bring to the table this year and it was that attitude and style that saw he blitz the powerful teenager Madison Keys 6-4, 6-2 in the Brisbane semis.

“I was working very hard in my off‑season and trying to play more aggressive in my practice sessions,” Kerber said.  “I think right now I try to make it in my matches, so it’s good I have like very good matches also before Melbourne. I’m feeling good, and I try to going for my shots.  That’s also what I improve in my game.  I think that it’s good right now.”

Much of a player’s willingness to go for her shots has to do with confidence, and a willingness to make mistakes and move on. On Thursday in Sydney, Kerber actually attacked Keys’ big serve and let loose with her forehand ,which looked much improved and dangerous. She still needs to put balls back in play, but she has to go for openings.

“ I have [going back to defense] sometimes in my mind, but I try to not thinking about this,” she said.  “I really try to focus then from point to point and not thinking about the past, and just trying to go then for my shots.  Also when I make some mistakes not thinking about this too much.  Going for my shots for the other point.”

Kerber will be the favorite going into the final against the Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, who played  an excellent match in upsetting Petra Kvitova, but even if the German goes down, she knows that she has to keep attempting to change her mentality. Not too many players can claim wins over Serena, Sharapova, Aga Radwanska and Li Na, but she can. She also played Azarenka very close they last time they faced off.

That indicates that some day, the 25 year old  will have a legitimate chance to win a major, if she takes her gloves off.

“I think you need to play for sure aggressive to be in the top 5, because it’s not easy to play against them when you’re just a defensive player,” Kerber said. “So I try to mix it a little bit and improve my game like to be more aggressive.”


Men’s story of the day: Tomic focuses

Defending champion Bernard Tomic came into his Sydney quarterfinal with a 1-5 record against his foe, Alex Dolgopolov. The Ukrainian’s one-time Aussie coach, Jack Reader, once attributed that to ‘Bernie not liking how Alex plays.” Both guys are squirrely, unorthodox players who are quite talented, but not known for their large hearts or killer instincts. But this time around, at home in front of a very supportive crowd, the Aussie Tomic stayed patient when he had to, didn’t get caught in Dolgopolov spider web and took big rips at the balls when they were in his wheelhouse. The result was a 6-4 6-3 win by Tomic, who once again playing at home looks very good. He also appears a good deal smarter as he managed to smash the mirror of himself into pieces. That would be “The Dolgo.”

“When I play him now I know what it’s like when players play me,” Tomic said. “It’s very different, because the balls that come to me are very unusual.  I struggle with a lot of his balls. I’m like, What the hell was that?  It’s his tennis, and that’s something I do well.  Obviously he’s a difficult player. I’m happy I won.”

Tomic  appears to have gained a bit more foot speed during the off season, is better balanced than he was last year and is clearly motivated to show his home country fans that he really is better than his world No. 51 ranking. On a cool night in Sydney, he also showed them that he can keep his head in a match that he was quite concerned about.

“I knew I had to stay focused with him, “ Tomic said. “ It’s not so much about playing amazing or that good.  I just needed to stay focused and do what I needed to do against him. Against him you can be winning and feel so uncomfortable, and you might lose in one or two games against, like your rhythm and everything.  So it’s difficult to find that timing against a player like that.”

Tomic could very well be better than his ranking, but outside of his fine Aussie summers, the 21 year old had never been a force on tour except for one strong Wimbledon. But that does not matter this week and won’t in the next two weeks in Melbourne.

He has the tools to win Sydney again — although Juan Martin Del Potro, who bested Radek Stepanek and will face Dmitry Tursunov in the semis — will be the favorite to do so. And if Tomic can defend his title, or even reach the final and play the elite likes of Del Potro tough, then he will be worth a long look at the Aussie Open.

Development of the Day

Juan Martin Del Potro says the Sydney courts are very fast and is hoping that the Ausralian Open won’t be as quick.  “I think the bounce are really low,” he said.  “Looks like a grass court, because very low bounce and very faster bounce, too. It’s not easy to play on the baseline and feel good on the lines, but I’m trying to do the best I can… I’m not training for this kind of conditions.  I been practicing in hard court, regular hard court, and I was expecting different conditions for this tournament. Hopefully for Melbourne the courts and balls are slower to play long rallies, to feel the ball like I want.  If not, I will have a couple days before start to change my mind and try to play the best tennis I can.”

Quote of the Day

The vanquished Petra Kvitova on her Aussie Open prospects: “I think the matches what I played was great, and I have three in my back.  I think it’s really good to have this record coming to Australian Open.  It’s a new week. I just hope that I can bring something good from Perth and from Sydney.”

What to Watch for on Friday

Can the cagey Pironkova finally realize her dream and win her first WTA title?