Kuznetsova v Vesnina in Indian Wells final

Published by Matt Trollope

Svetlana Kuznetsova won her second match against Karolina Pliskova in three meetings to reach the Indian Wells final; Getty Images
Russian veterans Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Vesnina will face off in the Indian Wells decider after coming through their Friday night semifinals in contrasting style.

Svetlana Kuznetsova has outlasted Karolina Pliskova in a high-quality semifinal to advance to her first Indian Wells final in nine years.

There she’ll meet Elena Vesnina, who earlier on Friday evening produced a complete display of tennis to overwhelm Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic.

Kuznetsova, who’s best results in the Californian desert came when she reached back-to-back finals in 2007 and 2008, was too steady for the third-seeded Pliskova in a 7-6(5) 7-6(2) win in just under two hours.

“She played so great and I had to show a great performance today and I think I did it really well,” Kuznetsova said.

“It’s huge, no? I’ve been here in the final 10 years ago so that’s great to be here (again).

“We (Elena and I) have been teammates since we were 12, playing back in Sochi. It’s great that it’s a Russian final. I’m really happy for her, she’s been doing amazing job this year and last year.

“I’m just looking forward to have a great game and do my best and whoever is the best will win.”

Little separated the Czech and the Russian in a match dominated by winners and forced errors.

Yet the difference lay in their stroke production; while Pliskova hits hard and flat with little margin for error, Kuznetsova’s groundstrokes, with their greater shape and spin, felt safer and more solid all night.

She opened the match strongly in building a 3-0 lead, and although Pliskova broke Kuznetsova back when the Russian was serving for the opening set, the eighth seed played a steadier tiebreak.

Ditto in the second set. Players traded breaks and it progressed to a tiebreak, where Kuznetsova held firm and defended brilliantly while Pliskova’s forehand broke down.

The Czech, disgusted with herself, flung her racquet as another error ended the contest.

Vesnina reached biggest career final

Like Kuznetsova, Vesnina skipped out to an early lead.

She pushed ahead 5-0 in the opening set and 5-1 in the second before eventually putting away an error-prone Mladenovic by a scoreline of 6-3 6-4.

The result sends the 30-year-old through to the biggest WTA final of her career.

Her previous best results have all come at Premier-level; she won at Eastbourne in 2013 and reached finals in Charleston (2011 and 2016) and New Haven (2009).

“Today was big. It was electric, to be honest. I felt the atmosphere,” Vesnina said after the one-hour, 24-minute win.

“It was a very important match for me. And I was playing pretty good. Kiki is having a great season – she’s in the semifinal here, she beat so many good players, so I knew that she’s on fire.

“I was trying to focus point by point and this last game on my serve I’m really proud that I pulled (out) this win.”

Vesnina started out the match just as she did against Venus Williams in the quarterfinals – in a hurry.

She raced to a 5-0 lead thanks to brilliant court positioning and consistent, precise groundstrokes.

Mladenovic, by contrast, was flat and error-prone. Having come through her quarterfinal against Caroline Wozniacki with her success at the net, she revisited that tactic and began to close the gap.

Yet the damage had already been done – the confident, surging Vesnina pocked the opening set and opened another big lead in the second.

Mladenovic again conjured some inspiring play, rousing the crowd with some unexpected drop-shot winners, changes of pace and athletic volleys.

She saved a match point in the seventh game and then broke Vesnina as the Russian served for the match with a 5-2 lead.

Yet two games later, presented with a second opportunity to serve it out, Vesnina did not falter.

She moved through when Mladenovic dumped a forehand return into the net.

“I think 30 is the new 20 in tennis,” Vesnina laughed, when asked about her success at this stage of her career. “It’s just numbers – it’s nothing else.

“I’m really enjoying myself – I feel good, I feel healthy. And I love tennis. I love this game. I appreciate what I have. I’m really lucky that I can play tennis, I can travel all over the world.

“Now I’m playing in the final of Indian Wells – what can be better? I’m so humbled.”

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