ROME, Italy – Svetlana Kuznetsova showed all of her powers of recovery as she overcame No.14 seed Anett Kontaveit in the second round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, taking the match, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 in two hours and 48 minutes.
Kuznetsova gained a measure of revenge for defeat at the same stage of the competition in 2018 in the only previous meeting between the players.
It was, however, Kontaveit who gained the upper hand in an enthralling match that saw a plethora of tight games, many long and exciting rallies, as well as some aggressive shot making from both players.
The Estonian edged the opening set but was unable to turn the tide when Kuznetsova claimed the second before running away with the decider.
"Anett has more matches under her belt, so she was a little bit more confident in the start," Kuznetsova said. "I was just trying to hang in there all match and do my best. I started to play better and better as the match went on."
After both players kicked the match off with routine holds, six successive games would go to deuce, with little between the players, who traded winners and unforced errors at an almost identical rate. Both were playing to a high standard in all aspects of the game, though it was Kontaveit who was marginally better able to exert the Russian by pushing her side to side.
Throughout this sequence of tight games there would only be three break points, all going the way of the WTA World No.21, who finally made the breakthrough after 46 minutes.
Having edged in front, the Palermo finalist played a loose game that saw Kuznetsova break back, yet she responded brilliantly in the following game, recovering from 40-0 down to sweep to the set courtesy of a strong overhead finish after the type of lengthy exchange that characterized this encounter.
The second set would broadly follow the same pattern, though serve would become more dominant as the players shared the opening eight games for just a single break point, which was expertly saved by Kuznetsova when it seemed the match might be slipping out of her grasp.
Two misfires from the 24-year-old, who had constantly dusted the lines with her accurate hitting, did see Kuznetsova push clear but when serving to seal the set, she surrendered this advantage tamely off the back of a double fault and a long forehand.
And just as three straight breaks decided the first set, they would in the second, too. Again Kuznetsova claimed her opponent’s service game and on this occasion she made no mistakes when asked to seal the set, doing so after 64 minutes.
The momentum continued to favor the 35-year-old as a mishit return dropped on the line to provide an early breakthrough in the decider, and on the back of that she produced the first love service game since the second of the entire match.
Kontaveit, meanwhile, was not playing with the consistent brilliance that had been such a feature of her game in the formative stages of the match as she fell 1-4 behind off the back of another break.
Luck, too, was going against her. On her 12th break point of the match a powerful backhand clipped the net cord and dropped just out. When another soon followed, Kuznetsova hit an ace down the ‘T’, yet she persisted to get one of the break backs.
Kuznetsova, though, was unrelenting and secured another break to set up a last-16 meeting with No.4 seed Elina Svitolina.
"It's going to be a very difficult match. She's an amazing player. I'm just going to try to play and to fight," she concluded.