The 2016 Miami Open final will be contested on Saturday between the number 13 and 16 seeds, Victoria Azarenka and Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Ten years on since winning the title, Kuznetsova is back into the Miami final. It’s never a major surprise when Kuznetsova puts it all together because of the talent she possesses… you just never know when it’s going to happen! In another decent match (and there have been plenty in Miami), Kuznetsova was clutch on the big points, beating Timea Bacsinszky, 7-5 6-3 in one hour and 56 minutes.
The story of the first set was missed break points. Bacsinszky missed a couple at 2-2 and then Kuznetsova couldn’t convert on one at 4-3 with two missed forehands and a volley into the net. The clincher was at 5-5 where the Swiss player opened up two more opportunities at 15-40. On the second break point, a great point ensued with Bacsinszky getting Kuznetsova out wide; the Russian player produced something special, a magnificent backhand down-the-line winner.
Kuznetsova held, and then seized her moment in the next game, playing an aggressive final point and breaking through Bacsinszky’s backhand to take the set, 7-5. Bacsinszky hit more winners (16 to 12) and less unforced errors (14 to 18). The key stat though… Bacsinszky was 0/5 on break points.
Bacsinszky finally got that break at the start of the second set on a Kuznetsova double fault. She couldn’t back it up though and then was unable to convert on moreeee break points in the following game. The Swiss player, as pointed out by Marion Bartoli in the commentary, kept missing forehand returns long on break point. With all the missed opportunities and brutal conditions, Bacsinszky’s game became a little ragged. From 84% first serves in the first set to 59% in the second set, Bacsinszky held just once in the decider. She played a great return game down 1-3 to get back on level terms, but the serve wasn’t there to conslidate and the backhand, which did produce a plethora of winners, also began to break down.
Kuznetsova, who four times failed to close out sets in her quarter-final match against Makarova, served it out at the first time of asking, saving yet more break points and ending with a wonderful backhand cross-court winner. There was a lovely embrace at the net and I think I heard Timea say to Sveta to “go and win it”.
In the second of the semi-finals, Angelique Kerber and Victoria Azarenka once again put on a show. While it was a straight setter, don’t let the scorelline deceive you… the quality of tennis in this one was superb. Azarenka reasserted her dominance in the head-to-head, winning, 6-2 7-5 in one hour and 34 minutes. Azarenka and Kerber always seem to bring the best out of each other and their matches rarely fail to disappoint.
This match was particularly fun with Azarenka having a lot of success coming forward, winning 13 out of 17 points at the net. This is a tactic that has always worked well for her in the past against Kerber. The German player still managed to crack a handful of tremendous passing shot winners. After an early exchange of breaks, it was Azarenka who ran away with the opening set, 6-2. Kerber, who had strapping on her left thigh, struggled on serve with Azarenka going up a double break with back-to-back return winners. Kerber showed positive signs towards the end of the first set as the quality shot up.
The second set featured five consecutive breaks from 1-1 with Azarenka finally able to consolidate to 5-3*. Kerber loosened up on her serve to force Azarenka to serve out the match. The Belarusian threw in a nervy game with three double faults including one down break point. Other than the serve, it’s hard to pick out any weaknesses in Azarenka’s game right now. She reined it in again, winning four points in a row including a gorgeous final point showing tremendous control at the net on break point. At the second time of asking, Azarenka sealed her place in the final.
Head-to-head record: Azarenka and Kuznetsova are tied at 4-4 in their head-to-head; Azarenka has won their three most recent matches in Melbourne (7-5, 6-1, 2013), Madrid (7-6(5) 6-4, 2012) and Indian Wells (6-1 6-2, 2012). However, they haven’t played for over three years and have never contested a final before.
Interesting stat: Kuznetsova’s 7-5 6-3 semi-final win over Bacsinszky was her first straight sets win of the tournament having played four three setters in a row! Since winning the title in Sydney in majestic fashion, Kuznetsova had lost six of her last eight matches heading into Miami.
Final thoughts: Kuznetsova has proven herself to be capable of beating pretty much anyone IF she can get through her first couple of rounds of a tournament. The concern would be whether she’s got anything left in the tank. Kuznetsova was under the weather in her last Premier Mandatory final in Madrid last year where she had similarly battled her way through the draw with three of her five matches being decided in three sets. Azarenka too has played a lot of tennis in this last month, more than she’s been used to in years. Kuznetsova definitely has a shot if she brings her A-game to the table but it’s hard to look past Azarenka’s form in Miami where she is yet to drop a set…