LONDON, Great Britain - No.7 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova hadn't reached the Wimbledon quarterfinals in a decade - but today, she made it back to the last eight for the fourth time in her career with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over No.9 seed Agnieszka Radwanska that echoed their first ever meeting.
Exactly ten years ago, en route to the Russian's last quarterfinal here, a 22-year-old Kuznetsova and an 18-year-old Radwanska embarked on what would go on to be one of the WTA Tour's most long-standing rivalries in the third round of The Championships. Kuznetsova won 6-2, 6-3 on that day, as well as 13 of their next 17 encounters - and for Part IIX, she almost reprised that first scoreline, conceding just one more game to the Pole. Not that the ten-year wait had been on her mind: "When you look at the statistics, it's amazing," she admitted afterwards. "But I felt like I have been there, so it's just another quarterfinals."
In contrast to her third round against Polona Hercog, when Kuznetsova's reluctance to drive through her backhand in the opening stages caused her a few moments of anxiety in the first set, the 32-year-old came out striking both wings beautifully and unrelentingly. Her 18 winners in the first set were a flurry of accurate angled shots, brutally struck off forehands - and, demonstrating her overwhelming confidence, a pair of magnificently redirected backhand drives. On one of the rare occasions that the two-time Slam champion resorted to the slice, it was to delicately slide a finesse winner across the court to seal the deal on her first set point.
Kuznetsova's efficiency on big points was noteworthy, too: she was 100% on break points, converting both opportunities that came her way, while Radwanska let her sole chance pass with a limp error. "I felt like I was dictating. I could control," said the Russian.
The Pole has twice pulled off unlikely comebacks in this tournament already, though, and despite being outhit was undaunted. Upping her aggression off the ground in order to keep the ball from dropping short, the 28-year-old fended off six break points across each of her first three service games of the second set - including an epic twelve-and-a-half minute third game to hold for 2-1.
However, Radwanska's attempts to maintain her depth were a double-edged sword: her own unforced error tally doubled from five in the first set to ten in the second - and she was still unable to prevent Kuznetsova from dominating play on her own serve as the Russian raised her winner total to 37.
It wasn't just an impressive physical performance from the No.7 seed, but also remarkable for her ability to read the game of a player nicknamed 'The Professor' for her own tactical genius. Frequently, Kuznetsova would anticipate Radwanska's dropshots and cut her passes off for neat volley winners - and she simply kept plugging away at the 2012 Wimbledon finalist's serve until, on her eighth break point chance of the set, she broke through as Radwanska sent a backhand wide.
As Kuznetsova served for her biggest Wimbledon win in 10 years, a first double fault and a forehand shank caused ripples of anxiety in the Russian's camp - but in keeping with her rock-solid mental fortitude throughout the match, she simply resumed striking powerful winners, closing out Radwanska with a bullet-like backhand down the line. A quarterfinalist in 2003, 2005, 2007 and now 2017, Kuznetsova will face either World No.1 Angelique Kerber or 2014 finalist Garbiñe Muguruza in the last eight this year.
Afterwards, Kuznetsova attributed her win to managing her schedule wisely - and to flying under the radar at SW19 compared to Roland Garros. Feeling the effects of her arduous conclusion to 2016, she had skipped the Middle Eastern swing in February - "I don't want to play without passion and without will," as she explained. It's a decision the Russian doesn't regret - and nor is she sore about having to deal with less press in London than in Paris. "I had too much of it in French Open, too much pressure," she recalled. "And I felt better here. And I think it's better I'm just looking forward. I feel better, I feel more free.
It actually helped me, you know, and I don't care if people don't believe."
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