ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- Returning to her city of birth, two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova zipped into the second round of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, dispatching American Jennifer Brady, 6-3, 6-1 on Tuesday.
"It’s amazing to play in my hometown," an elated Kuznetsova stated, after her victory. "I’m really happy and pleased, I tried my best."
Kuznetsova reached the 2017 quarterfinals in her prior St. Petersburg showing, but had to miss the last two editions due to injuries. Finally back in her birthplace event, the former World No.2 started the week with a bang, easing past World No.52 Brady in 87 minutes, in their first meeting.
The wildcard entrant, currently ranked World No.49, was steely on break points during the tilt, converting five of the seven she held. Meanwhile, Brady could only convert one of her 12 break points, including going 0-for-7 in a pivotal first-set game. Brady had 24 winners, nearly double Kuznetsova's count, but the American also had 19 unforced errors to Kuznetsova's eight.
"It was a really intense first games of the match," said Kuznetsova. "[Brady] came out playing really aggressive. I just tried to stay focused, playing every ball, and I think that’s it."
After an early exchange of breaks in the first two games of the match, Kuznetsova found herself embroiled in a brutal service game, where she and Brady batted back grueling groundstrokes for over 15 minutes. The Russian had to face seven break points in the protracted battle, but withstood all of them before closing out a massive hold with a backhand winner.
The hold proved crucial, as Kuznetsova was able to steel herself for the rest of the opening frame. She earned the critical break for 4-2 with powerful returning, eventually forcing a long error from Brady with that shot. Kuznetsova began to cruise through the set from there, consolidating for 5-2 after Brady misfired long on a volley at game point.
The American held at love for 5-3, forcing Kuznetsova to serve for the first set, but the Russian quickly raced to triple set point in the next game. A long forehand return by Brady on the first set point gave Kuznetsova the one-set lead. The players had nearly equivalent service effectiveness, but Kuznetsova converted two of her three break points, while Brady was 1-for-9.
Kuznetsova earned a swift break in the second set, going up 1-0 after an error-forcing return. The Russian nearly gave the break back straightaway, but, once again, she was exceptional when facing break points, erasing three of them in the next game en route to a hold for 2-0.
The St. Petersburg native kept on rolling, firing a backhand winner down the line on game point to knock off a fifth straight game and reach 4-0 in the second set. Two games later, another down-the-line winner, this time off the forehand wing, put her a game away from the second round.
At 5-1, Brady staved off one match point, but the American was unable to survive the second, as Kuznetsova fired one more winning forehand to wrap up the match. Kuznetsova’s quest for a third title in her home country, after back-to-back wins at Moscow in 2015 and 2016, is still active.
Kuznetsova will face a fellow wildcard in the second round: top seed and World No.5 Belinda Bencic of Switzerland.
"[Bencic] plays very good indoors, she’s an extremely tough opponent," said Kuznetsova. "She’s the favorite to win, so I’ll just try to do my best and enjoy."