DOHA, Qatar - The unseeded Svetlana Kuznetsova notched up a milestone win at the Qatar Total Open with a 6-4, 6-4 quarterfinal upset of No.4 seed Belinda Bencic in one hour and 36 minutes during which she hit 39 winners to only 15 unforced errors.
The victory marks 2004 and 2007 runner-up Kuznetsova's 19th match win in her 11th appearance in Doha, tying former World No.1 Caroline Wozniacki for the all-time total record at the tournament, and moves the Russian into her first semifinal here since 2007. Moreover, it avenges a 7-6(4), 6-4 defeat at the hands of Bencic earlier this month in front of her home crowd in St. Petersburg - indeed, this is the first time in five attempts that Kuznetsova has won a match point against the Swiss No.1, with her only previous win in the series coming via retirement at Wuhan 2016. For Bencic, it marks the third time out of three total that she has been halted at the quarterfinal stage of a tournament in 2020.
Afterwards, Kuznetsova spoke about her long history in Doha. "I have amazing memories," she told reporters. "It was my first time when I beat Justine [Henin] here [in the 2004 semifinals] and it was like I was a kid, I was 19... I raised from No.30-something to No.13 or No.14 and it was amazing. It was so long ago it was like another life, but it really happened to me - I didn't watch it in the movies. And here I'm back again in the semis. I didn't expect it that early. I've been working hard for this and it's nice that the work pays off."
Kuznetsova drew on all of her experience to make the necessary changes to turn her record against Bencic around today. "I didn't serve so well in the St. Petersburg match and I didn't have so much confidence," she said. "Today I served better and, of course, outdoors suits my game more... I was more aggressive and I think I choose the right tactic, that was a change of something that's been working here."
As befitting a player with so many years of experience, Kuznetsova also had a simple answer to dealing with the windy conditions that have plagued so many matches this week. "I just pushed myself to move my feet," she said. "That's basically all you can do when it's windy and, yeah, it worked pretty well."
The 34-year-old put together a glorious display of shotmaking in the first set, tallying 21 winners to just six unforced errors with her famed forehand particularly on song, finding both angles and power that left Bencic flailing. Nonetheless, the set hung in the balance until the very end: having saved a break point against her in the second game, Kuznetsova was repeatedly stymied as she attempted to break through on her opponent's delivery.
Eight break points came and went for the World No.46 across three consecutive Bencic service games as the US Open semifinalist's focus sharpened under pressure to escape every time. But Kuznetsova proved able to shake off the missed opportunities with ease, turning around on every occasion to post a rapidfire hold and capturing 16 of the last 18 points of the set on her own serve.
Eventually, the two-time major champion's fortitude paid off. In the ninth game, another flurry of dazzling winners brought up her ninth break point of the set - and this time, Kuznetsova was able to find yet another winner, this time a wrongfooting backhand down the line at full stretch, to finally break through. Another fuss-free hold later, and the first set was hers.
The former World No.2 took the same energy into the second set, maintaining the pressure on Bencic with aggressive returning - except with greater efficiency on break points. Consequently, Kuznetsova would leap out to a 4-1 double-break lead, sealing the second capture of the Bencic serve with a chase up to a dropshot that the 22-year-old volleyed into the net.
The Moscow champion would attempt a valiant fightback, taking the ball earlier and upping the ante on her backhand to claw back one of the breaks. But with Kuznetsova falling off her previous level and lapsing into passivity, Bencic failed to take advantage of a break point to level at 4-4. Instead, it was the Cincinnati runner-up who raised her game again, striking bold forehands to save the break point and edging out to 5-3 with her sixth ace of the day.
Battling with her back against the wall, Bencic saved one match point serving at 4-5 after Kuznetsova netted a backhand following an extended rally - and continued to threaten the resurgence as she took a 0-30 lead as Kuznetsova attempted to serve out the win.
But displaying more of the mental strength that characterized her victory, Kuznetsova held Bencic off by coming up with even more special tennis: a smart volley, a booming backhand down the line, a seventh ace and a service winner reeled off the final four points in a row - and set up a semifinal date against No.9 seed Aryna Sabalenka.