Showing some of the same form that won her two Grand Slam titles, Svetlana Kuznetsova entered her first final of the year after defeating Italy’s Flavia Pennetta 6-4, 6-0 in the semifinals of the Mercury Insurance Open. After struggling most of the week, Kuznetsova put on an impressive display especially on her favored forehand side where she was able to hit seemingly winner after winner at will.
The first set saw both Kuznetsova and Pennetta test each others groundstrokes and service games as they traded early breaks. Pennetta kept up with Kuznetsova’s pace in early rallies, but her backhand let her down in key moments specifically when down a break point, Pennetta let a backhand sail wide to give Kuznetsova a 5-3 lead. But the Russian couldn’t serve it out dropping her own serve in the next game but finally closed out the first set by breaking Pennetta again when another Pennetta backhand sailed long.
Kuznetsova, who had been missing forehands earlier in the first set, found her range on her favorite weapon in the second set and never looked back. After securing another early break to go up 2-0, Kuznetsova amped up the depth and pace of her shots which Pennetta couldn’t handle. The Russian then started hitting forehand winners at will. A forehand return winner gave Kuznetsova a double break lead at 4-0 and two more forehand winners in a row on her next service game gave her a 5-0 lead. At this point, Pennetta was just trying to avoid a bagel set and when facing her first match point against her, Pennetta served an ace and then raised her arms in triumph. Pennetta saved another match point when Kuznetsova netted a return but it wasn’t enough as Kuznetsova finally closed out the match on her third match point.
Pennetta, who earned a dismal 44% first serve percentage, blamed her poor serving for the majority of her problems today. “She was always getting into the court on the first ball and I was always running and running. It’s not my favorite shot (the serve) of course but when I’m a little bit nervous and when I know have to play really well then I start to get nervous and then I cannot put one in.”
Kuznetsova, despite getting to her first final this year, still sees room for improvement. “I’m playing better yes but I’m very far from the place I want to be.” When asked how she felt when she fell out of the top 20 for the first time since 2003, she talked about how she didn’t panic when others around her did. “I was like don’t worry I’m working on it. I couldn’t change it at that moment. I couldn’t rush out and play more tournaments to earn ranking points. I just want to be better and be strong. I don’t want to be number 12 or 15 that’s not my goal. I want to be higher and know I can do it.”
Kuznetsova didn’t express a preference for whom she might face in tomorrow’s final which could either be Daniela Hantuchova or Agnieszka Radwanksa who face each other in the other semifinal later tonight. But considering that Kuznetsova’s 7-4 lifetime versus Hantuchova and 6-3 lifetime against Radwanska (and remember Kuznetsova won her last title in Beijing over the Polish No. 1) along with the resurgent form she’s displaying, Kuznetsova will go into tomorrow’s final a heavy favorite.