Former Top 10 players Svetlana Kuznetsova and Daria Kasatkina each came back from a set down in their quarterfinal matches to set up an intriguing St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy semifinal showdown.
No.4 seed Kuznetsova guaranteed an all-Russian semifinal lineup after overcoming the only non-Russian player to reach the quarterfinals, Romanian qualifier Jaqueline Cristian, by the score of 6-7(5), 6-3, 6-3.
No.8 seed Kasatkina was the last player to reach the final four, upending fellow Russian and No.2 seed Veronika Kudermetova, 1-6, 6-1, 6-2 in the nightcap. It will be the first WTA meeting between Russian stars Kasatkina and Kuznetsova.
With wildcards Vera Zvonareva and Margarita Gasparyan squaring off in the other semifinal, this is the first time there has been an all-Russian semifinal line-up at any WTA tournament.
For the first time at @Formula_TX, a Russian WTA singles champion will be crowned in St. Petersburg! 👑— wta (@WTA) March 19, 2021
Who makes it to the #FormulaTX final?
🇷🇺 [WC] Gasparyan vs. Zvonareva [WC] 🇷🇺
🇷🇺  Kuznetsova vs. Kasatkina  🇷🇺 pic.twitter.com/5K8hxhyyWu
Former World No.2 Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam singles champion, booked a spot in her 74th career WTA singles semifinal with the two-hour and 15-minute victory over Cristian, who was contesting her first-ever WTA semifinal.
Kuznetsova and Cristian had an identical number of winners (26 apiece) and Cristian had just three more unforced errors than Kuznetsova. But Kuznetsova's experience showed when it came to taking their chances -- she broke Cristian five times off of eight break points, while the 160th-ranked qualifier was 2-for-6 on break points.
After an early exchange of breaks settled at 2-2, the servers eased through the rest of the opening set. A powerful forehand gave Kuznetsova a 5-2 lead in the breaker, but Cristian suddenly started to charge the net with aplomb, using aggressive play off both wings to clinch five straight points and snatch the opening set out of Kuznetsova’s hands.
A rattled Kuznetsova dropped serve to start the second set, but immediately broke back at love to get back level. Kuznetsova then drew a litany of errors from Cristian to break for a crucial 4-2 lead, as the qualifier's first-serve percentage dipped from 73 percent in the first set to just over 50 percent in the second set. Though Kuznetsova needed four set points to do it, the Russian held on at 5-3 to tie up the encounter at a set apiece.
An early break for a 2-1 lead put Kuznetsova in command of the deciding set, and she used her strong forehand to close out the match. Kuznetsova earned a second break in the set with a forehand return winner to convert her first match point, and she advanced to the St. Petersburg semifinals for the first time, after two quarterfinal losses in 2017 and 2020.
In the late quarterfinal, Kasatkina charged back from the quick loss of the first set to reach the semifinals in St. Petersburg for the third time (also 2016 and 2018) in the tournament's six-year history. Kasatkina has played every edition of the event and has reached the quarterfinals or better four times.
It was all Kudermetova at the outset of their tilt, though, as the No.2 seed swept through the opening frame in just 22 minutes. Kudermetova had six winners and just three unforced errors in the first set, never facing a break point during that timeframe.
However, Kasatkina at last got her first break points in the second game of the second set, and the former World No.10 finally took her chance and grabbed a 2-0 lead. Another protracted game went Kasatkina's way as she opened up a 4-0 advantage, and her sublime defensive skills in rallies drew 12 unforced errors from Kudermetova as she notched the second set.
Kasatkina kept the momentum in the final set, pulling more miscues from Kudermetova at the end of rallies to earn a love break for 1-0, then saving a whopping six break points in a 12-minute game to consolidate for 2-0.
Kasatkina was not threatened for the remainder of the clash, and she booked her spot in the semifinals with a passing winner to hold at love for the triumph.