For the second straight year, Serena Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova will meet in the fourth round of the Miami Open on Sunday.
The number 15 seed, Kuznetsova edged out Caroline Garcia in third round action on Saturday, 4-6 6-2 7-6(6). Garcia had begun in glorious form, winning 94% of first serve points in the first set and dropping just three points on serve. Kuznetsova was pretty good also but Garcia turned the screw with scoreboard pressure up 5-4. As is unfortunately the case with Garcia, her level rarely stays stable for more than a set. Her almost-immaculate serve went off the rails with Kuznetsova breaking twice to win the second set, 6-2.
The third set was everything you would expect from this match-up and more! There were twists and turns in abundance and for the most part, the level was respectable. Kuznetsova led by a break on three occasions, including serving for the match at *5-4, but it went to the tiebreak. Garcia showed great intent throughout the entire match at serving big and coming forward but the forehand, which did produce some sparkling winners, was just too erratic. Kuznetsova missed two match points at 6-4 in the tiebreak but won the next two with two more missed forehands from Garcia.
Serena was made to work hard in her third round match, eventually coming through a tight two setter against Zarina Diays, 7-5 6-3. Diyas, who had won just four matches through eight tournaments heading into Miami, came out with an aggressive gameplan. She was broken in the first game, but broke straight back, hitting two return winners (one down-the-line, one cross-court) in that game. Diyas’s coach came on midway during the set to reiterate the point about being aggressive on second serve returns and to try and keep her position on the baseline.
Despite Diyas giving a good account of herself, Serena always had the upper hand. The world number had a few wobbles though, failing to serve out the first set at *5-4 and losing her double break midway through the second set. Serena eventually broke for the win, a solid test that lasted 92 minutes.
Head-to-head record: Serena leads Sveta, 8-2 in their head-to-head. However, Kuznetsova has always competed well in this match-up and four of their last six matches have gone to three sets. Their last match was in Miami at exactly the same stage of the tournament with Serena winning, 6-2 6-3.
Interesting stat: Aside from a 8-10 third set loss to Kiki Bertens in Fed Cup action, Kuznetsova has won her last five three set matches on the WTA tour.
Final thoughts: Serena-Sveta matches are always joyous. Chuck this match on clay and I think that Kuznetsova always stands more than a good shot of winning. Kuznetsova is one of these players that struggles early on but if she can get through a couple of rounds, transforms into almost a different player during the latter stages of a tournament (Note – Sydney). Serena has been a little wasteful so far this week, so three sets wouldn’t be a major surprise. Still, with Serena at home… Serena for the win.