CINCINNATI, OH, USA -- Former World No.2 Svetlana Kuznetsova continued her blistering run through the Western & Southern Open draw on Saturday by knocking off current World No.2 Ashleigh Barty, 6-2, 6-4, to advance to the final in Cincinnati.
"I'm really happy," Kuznetsova said, in her post-match press conference. "I'm not really an analyzing person, but somehow, like, on my intuition, I'm doing so much better, not repeating so many of my mistakes. Just playing smarter and wiser now. At 34 [years old] I should start, I think," the Russian smiled.
Two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova is currently ranked World No.153 after periods of inactivity and received a wildcard into the draw, but her vintage form has been in full effect this week. The Russian claimed her third Top 10 win in a row over No.1 seed Barty, following a dominant third-round victory over Sloane Stephens and a quarterfinal comeback win over Karolina Pliskova.
"It's been so many different things when I was off, so I just enjoyed time off," said Kuznetsova. "Honestly, I was not missing at all traveling and all the stress when you play tournaments. But now I have missed it and I feel good. I feel joy staying here and being here. Definitely helped me to have some time off to see other things out of tennis, because when you learn more you can bring more to your work, to your job."
In the first meeting between the two players, it was Kuznetsova who looked completely unperturbed after losing the first two games of the match, making a quick turnaround and emerging victorious after just 68 minutes of play.
Kuznetsova was super on serve, never facing a break point in her final eight service games, and winning two-thirds of her second-service points in total. Barty, who would have returned to World No.1 with a win, did not get her typically stellar serve clicking until late in the encounter, and was undone by 27 unforced errors, more than twice her 13 winners.
"Ashleigh's game is really different," Kuznetsova stated. "It's kind of the game I play, I think, more similar. And I just was trying to figure it out."
"I felt like I was kind of in control of the match because I'm moving well, bringing every ball back, playing very consistent," Kuznetsova added. "Definitely bringing more pressure to my opponent. I could read her game well and was really stable in my game. I thought it was the key."
After an error-prone start which saw her down 0-2, Kuznetsova went on an absolute tear in the first set. The Russian quickly got back on serve, slamming an overhead winner to break Barty for 2-1, and then took advantage of errors by the Australian to claim the break lead for herself at 3-2.
Kuznetsova found the range on her powerful forehand as the set wore on, and earned her third break of the set by thumping a stunning forehand return winner on break point to go up 5-2. Another winner off of that wing at the end of a rally in the next game pulled the wildcard to double set point. There, Barty sent a forehand long on Kuznetsova’s first opportunity, and the Russian had won six games in a row.
The wildcard kept her momentum rolling at the start of the second set, breaking Barty in the opening game and consolidating for 2-0, giving her an eighth straight game. Barty finally stopped the streak by holding for 2-1, but the damage had been done, as the Australian would never get to break point in the set.
"I made the break, and, you know, when you feel like you're in control of the match, you start to be worried not to relax, so I was trying to focus on my serve," said Kuznetsova.
World No.2 Barty finally pulled out some of her stellar serves as the second set wore on, as she aimed to find a way back into the match, holding serve for the remainder of the encounter. But Kuznetsova was determined to make her break lead stand up, chasing down everything Barty threw at her and extending rallies until she forced an error from the Australian.
Kuznetsova eventually found her way to a chance to serve for the set, and she was nerveless as she raced to triple match point. On the first match point, Barty sent a return out of court, and Kuznetsova had notched another signature win as her form continues to crest during the hardcourt season.
The Russian, who won the 2004 US Open and 2009 Roland Garros for her major titles, is into her first final in just over a year, dating back to her win over Donna Vekic in the Citi Open final in Washington, D.C., last summer. She will face the winner of the all-American affair between Madison Keys and Sofia Kenin.
"Madison is extremely tough," Kuznetsova admitted. "When she's on fire, it's really hard to play against her. It's going to be a difficult matchup against both of them. I think Madison is a little bit harder hitter, more aggressive. Kenin, I never played. I practiced with her a couple of times."