In an unlikely yet intriguing semi-final, Timea Bacsinszky will take on Svetlana Kuznetsova on Thursday for a place in the final of the 2016 Miami Open.
Bacsinszky has come good in Miami after losing five of her first six matches in 2016. There were positive signs in Doha and Indian Wells where Bacsinszky won back-to-back matches, but the Swiss player has fully announced herself in Miami with four victories… and they’ve all been excellent wins. Bacsinszky defeated Margarita Gasparyan (6-3 6-1) and Ana Ivanovic (7-5 6-4) through the first two rounds, and then came from a set down to seal back-to-back top five wins over Agnieszka Radwanska (2-6 6-4 6-2) and Simona Halep (4-6 6-3 6-2).
Much like the match against Radwanska, Bacsinszky started slow in her quarter-final against Halep. The Romanian player was in control early on and didn’t seem troubled by Bacsinszky’s game, taking advantage of some loopy forehand balls. Halep was struggling to put Bacsinszky away but was constructing the points nicely and was good value for the opening set, 6-4. Bacsinszky fought back at the start of the second set and after an exchange of breaks, managed to consolidate to lead *4-1. Halep provided some resistance at the end of the set, producing one amazing forehand pass, but Bacsinszky hung onto force a decider.
From there on, the Swiss player was the more aggressive player, drilling the backhand and moving Halep from side-to-side. It was a strangely passive and emotionless (despite the racquet throw at the end of the second set) third set from Halep. She relied heavily on her coach, Darren Cahill and gave him almost nothing to work with in their last changeover chat, barely uttering a word. Halep couldn’t break down Bacsinszky’s forehand and made very little impression on return. Timea’s celebrations are always lovely to see as it shows how much these wins mean to her, particularly after her struggles at the start of the year.
It’s been a good week in Miami for the women with a handful of excellent matches; one of those was Svetlana Kuznetsova’s quarter-final victory over Ekaterina Makarova, 6-7(3) 6-4 6-3 in two hours and 43 minutes. While both players were a little shaky in the key moments, it was a very entertaining battle with some high-quality hitting. Kuznetsova looked to have wrapped up the first set, up *5-2 *40-0; however it was Makarova who mounted a substantial comeback, saving four set points with Kuznetsova failing to serve out the set on three occasions.
The turnaround was a little from both sides with Makarova tidying up her game and managing to break through Kuznetsova’s spirited defence. Kuznetsova did well to put the disappointment of losing the first set behind her in the second set. While she failed to serve out a set for the fourth time at *5-3 (although that had a lot to do with Makarova who converted on break point with an incredible on-the-run forehand winner down the line), Makarova couldn’t carry that momentum into the next game with Kuznetsova breaking for the set, 6-4.
The third set continued in much the same vein with some super rallies and plenty of breaks. Both players lost their serve with a double fault down break point. However, it was Kuznetsova who was a touch more solid with Makarova just starting to miss the lines. While Kuznetsova was broken up 4-2, she won a huge five-deuce game at 4-3. And at the fifth time of asking, Kuznetsova finally served out a set! I hope that Makarova will not be too disheartened by this loss as she showed some of her best form in a long, long time in Miami..
Head-to-head record: Kuznetsova leads the head-to–head, 2-0, with victories in Montreal (7-6 (6) 6-4, 2010) and Indian Wells (6-3 2-0 ret., 2012). It’s worth noting that both wins came before Bacsinszky’s big breakthrough on tour.
Interesting stat(s): Both Kuznetsova and Bacsinszky reached a Premier Mandatory final in 2015; Kuznetsova beat Maria Sharapova en route to the final in Madrid while Bacsinszky was a finalist in Beijing. For Kuznetsova, she has won all four of her matches in Miami in three sets and has come back from a set down in the last three matches.
Final thoughts: This is another Miami match-up where it is tough to separate both players, particularly in such an unexpected semi-final. Kuznetsova has impressed this week with her battling qualities and tenacious defence. The Russian player has not always been the most convincing in tight moments and this was the case against Makarova, four times failing to serve out sets… yet she bounced back in style! The surface also suits her game and she’s a former Miami champ from 2006. Bacsinszky too has been plucky, improving dramatically from start to finish in her last two wins over Radwanska and Halep. Because of the way she has managed to adapt to situations this week, i’m going for Bacsinszky in three.