MELBOURNE, Australia - After missing the second half of 2012 with a knee injury, even Svetlana Kuznetsova wouldn't have believed it if someone told her she would make the quarterfinals of the Australian Open - but by beating a former No.1 she has done it, with the current No.1 up next.
Kuznetsova, a former World No.2 now down at No.75 after the aforementioned six month lay-off, went toe to toe with Caroline Wozniacki for almost two and a half hours on Rod Laver Arena on Monday afternoon, a virtual chess match against one of the most consistent players out on the tour.
The first set was all Kuznetsova, blasting 18 winners to just 11 unforced and taking the set, 6-2. But Wozniacki wasn't about to give in, and things swung heavily the other way in the second set.
"I was very happy with the first set, so happy that I stopped to do anything," Kuznetsova said. "I gave my advantage right back to her and in the third set we were equal. Even she had a little bit of an advantage because she took the second set. But in the third set I just had to keep fighting for every ball, keep trying to dictate, and just keep trying to do all of the things I was doing well before."
The third set was a 75-minute grinder but Kuznetsova got the break at 5-all and served it out, finishing the match off with a big backhand, her 52nd winner of the match. Final score: 62 26 75.
"In the important moments I just knew I had to go one ball at a time, and just try to do my best," Kuznetsova said. "It's amazing. It's my best result. I have been to the quarterfinals here two times, so I'm just kind of replaying that. It's a very good result for my first Grand Slam tournament back.
"If you asked me before coming to Australia if I would be in the quarterfinals, I would say - well I would laugh, definitely. I wouldn't be so sure about it."
"I never thought of stopping tennis," the Russian explained. "I was just laying in bed, and I was thanking my knee so at least I could rest. When the knee was sore it was so annoying to walk with the crutches all day long. I went to Thailand, I went to Bali, on the beach with crutches, all day long, and I had blisters on my hands. That was the most annoying thing, then doing the recovery afterwards too.
"But anyway, I had time at home and refreshed my mind, and I just knew that I want to play this game. I always loved it, but I wanted to have this desire to bring me back. That's what happened."
"I was focused and in control from the beginning," Azarenka said afterwards. "That was important for me. I feel like I'm improving from match to match. I just want to keep going the same way."
Kuznetsova leads the pair's head-to-head, 4-3, but in their only two 2012 meetings Azarenka came out on top, in straight sets both times - 61 62 at Indian Wells and a closer 76(5) 64 at Madrid.
"The time we played in Indian Wells was a total disaster - I got beaten very badly," Kuznetsova recalled. "I worked a little bit more, and Madrid I think we almost played a three-setter. But she's tough.
"She's No.1. I have nothing to lose. She has all the pressure."
"I can see Sveta has come back much fresher, much stronger," Azarenka said. "She knows how to handle the big stages, big tournaments - she's a Grand Slam champion, as well. It's definitely an exciting match for me to be in. I'm sure it's going to be really tough. I definitely have to be ready."