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Championships Profile: Svetlana Kuznetsova
DOHA, Qatar – Aptly enough, Svetlana Kuznetsova clinched the sixth berth at the Sony Ericsson Championships with her quarterfinal run at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last month. “I have worked hard to get my game back, especially in the second half of the season, so I’m looking forward to finishing the season in Doha with a good performance,” said the Russian. “I like playing outdoors so I’m quite excited about the final highlight of the year.”
It has, indeed, been a mixed year for the 23-year-old, who started 2008 ranked No.2 in the world – and first among Russians – but has since slipped to No.7 overall, and fourth on the list of compatriots.
In the wake of Justine Henin’s retirement Kuznetsova was a contender for the top ranking, and the 2004 US open champion went within two matches of the feat at Roland Garros – where she needed to win the tournament to ascend, but fell to a red-hot Dinara Safina in the semis. Even so, Kuznetsova was still in the hunt as recently as the US Open, but having been runner-up there to Henin in 2007 her ranking was hurt by a third round loss to Katarina Srebotnik.
‘So near, and yet, so far’ applies to Kuznetsova’s tournament results as well as her ranking prospects. Five times she has been runner-up at Tour events during 2008: at the Medibank International in Sydney, the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships in Dubai, the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells, the Toray Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo, and most recently at the China Open in Beijing.
But there has been cause for celebration too: the latter two results came during a jetlag-inducing autumn schedule that also saw Kuznetsova steer Russia to its fourth Fed Cup triumph in five years with victory over Spain in Madrid; the Russian won both her singles matches in the final, over Anabel Medina Garrigues and Carla Suárez Navarro, for her third personal Fed Cup crown.
There have been other strong results, most notably a semifinal finish at the Sony Ericsson Open in Miami, where Kuznetsova’s victims included Venus Williams, but also several disappointing losses to next-generation stars like Agnieszka Radwanska, Caroline Wozniacki and Alizé Cornet. No great slump, no terrible injury, just and up-and-down season at a time when things are getting increasingly crowded at the top. Still, most players would do anything for such a resumé.
Kuznetsova will be making her fourth appearance at the Tour Championships; having never advanced past the round robin stage, she’ll be primed to make her mark this time. She hasn’t played since Moscow, so she’ll be fresh; the St. Petersburg native has also announced a move back to Russia and a new coaching arrangement with the country’s original tennis legend, Olga Morozova, which has all the hallmarks of a winning combination. Even in tennis terms Kuznetsova is still young, and Doha could prove to be the launch pad she needs for a return to Top 5 form.