MADRID, Spain - Kristina Mladenovic is through to her first ever Premier Mandatory final – and her fourth final of 2017 - after knocking out close friend and doubles partner Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets at the Mutua Madrid Open.
The pair set their friendship aside as they battled under the lights at the Manolo Santana Stadium, but Mladenovic bossed the big points and continued her torrid form to seal the 6-4, 7-6(4) victory.
“We know each other's game really well,” Mladenovic explained in her post-match press conference. “Today was kind of about tactic match, to surprise each other. There were times we both had, like, some bad moments because we would try too much to change our natural game.
“I actually think this is a big win for me because Svetlana is such a big, experienced player. The score shows it, that it was just about some details here and there. I'm happy I could handle it, especially with the nerves.”
Both players know each other’s game like the back of their hand, and the familiarity showed in the early stages of the match as they opened with a pair of breaks.
Mladenovic showing off her deft touch at the net, peppering the drop shots and volleys into her game while the former French Open champion pounced on the short balls and cutting off the angles.
The Frenchwoman finally broke through at 5-4, taking advantage of pair of errors from Kuznetsova to earn the lead and then serve out the opening set.
Mladenovic had several chances to break the Kuznetsova serve in the more subdued second set – she quickly earned a pair of break points at 2-1 and then another three at 5-4. But the Russian found her big serves in those big moments, digging herself out of trouble and staying within touching distance of Mladenovic.
She pulled ahead in the tiebreak, forehand firing as Kuznetsova let a few loose errors slip out during the crucial moments. The Frenchwoman took the match at her second match point, closing out the encounter after an hour and forty-three minutes.
“Kristina played really well,” Kuznetsova said afterwards. “For me she's really confident at the moment. You can see that she win many matches this year. You can feel it on the court.
“She played smarter than I did. My balls were a little bit too short. I mean, it's really small moments which change a match a lot.”
The win puts Mladenovic through to her fourth final of 2017, and her second straight on clay after her impressive run at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix earlier in the season. She'll take on Simona Halep in the final as the Romanian bids for back-to-back Madrid titles.
“Her game suits perfectly on clay, I would say,” Mladenovic assessed. “She's one of the best players, playing extremely well here in Madrid, being the defending champion, always had good results in the past.
“I'm expecting a tough match. Even though I'm leading in our head-to-head, we never played on clay. That's going to be a brand-new challenge for me, especially that she's more used to being in a finals of such a big events than me, especially here in Madrid.”