Svetlana Kuznetsova, with her two dramatic three set wins, and an impromptu haircut now seen around the world, has become the breakout star at this week’s WTA Finals in Singapore. A fact made more impressive given that she is actually the oldest player, at age 31, in the draw. But if anyone was perhaps due an exciting final act in what has been a career of stellar highs and stunning lows, it is Kuznetsova.
Now the Russian veteran, who admitted a previous dislike for the round robin format, now finds herself in the season-ending event’s semifinals for the first time in her career. When asked where this career resurgence is coming from, the Russian gave one of her trademark honest answers.
“From my heart.”
The rise of Kuznetsova back into the top ten this year has been an unexpected yet welcome surprise in what’s been an overall tumultuous season on the WTA tour. After several years of seeing her ranking hover around the top 30, many expected Kuznetsova to possibly wind down her hallmark career that includes winning two major titles.
Instead, Kuznetsova kicked off 2016 winning Sydney, then later in the spring defeated then World No. 1 Serena Williams in Miami before continuing her run all the way to the finals. Fourth round appearances at Roland Garros and Wimbledon helped continue Kuznetsova’s momentum leading into the end of year where she repeated as Moscow champion, a result that clinched for her the last remaining spot in the WTA Finals.
So what changed for Kuznetsova, especially this year?
“Maybe I start to believe a little bit more than before. I just hang in there more. I think I believe — it’s not like I didn’t believe and I believe. You know, I don’t want it to sound like this,” Kuznetsova said after her win over Karolina Pliskova. “But I see clearly other things, you know. Some things get together and you get confidence. I see opponents fear me more than before because I win matches, I fight, and I’ll be there. Doesn’t matter if I play like crap and I’m sore, I will just be there.”
Kuznetsova is the rare player who can hit every shot in the book, but often has a hard time making up her mind on which one to try. Perhaps that’s why in the last few years, Kuznetsova has become a more of a grinder on tour, willing to bide her time constructing points before unleashing a winner. It’s this style that has earned her more three set wins than anyone on tour this season and perhaps gives her that extra bit of needed confidence that she knows she’ll pull out another extended match as she’s done so far in Singapore.
While Kuznetsova’s career is one that many players can only dream of, there’s still always been the lingering feeling she should have achieved more with all of her talent. The Russian knows that herself, but now, late in her career, she is fully embracing the opportunities she still has as one of the top players in the game.
“Sometimes I had some lows in my career and I was not tough because, I don’t know, my mind was not there, the right place. But as I got straight, everything, and matured, I know I just going to be out there and fight for every ball. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.”
Right now in Singapore, it’s all working for Kuznetsova. That Kuznetsova is able to once again compete, and shine, at the season-ending championships is something many tennis watchers didn’t think she’d get an opportunity to do. Thankfully for us all, we do get that opportunity to marvel at what the charismatic Russian can do on the court.
If Kuznetsova can keep up this momentum into next season is one of the big questions that will need to be answered. But instead of fading out as once predicted, Kuznetsova is certainly proving she is ready and capable to add several more chapters to her remarkable career.