After their semi-final in Prague didn’t go ahead, the draw gods have got their wish… two of the WTA’s most accomplished clay courters, Svetlana Kuznetsova and Sam Stosur, will play third up on court 1 on Wednesday’s schedule of second round matches in Rome.
Kuznetsova got off to a winning start in Rome, defeating Caroline Garcia in two tight sets, 7-5 6-4. It was Kuznetsova’s second victory over Garcia this year having squeaked a third set tiebreak victory in Miami. Kuznetsova’s superior versatility on this surface was one of the key factors for the win. She also served very effectively, matching Garcia’s six aces and with the Frenchwoman unable to make a significant impact on return.
There were just a few points here and there in both sets; after recovering from an early break down, Garcia was just two points away from winning the first set up 5-4 40-40. The set went on and in a pivotal 11th game, Garcia clawed her way back from *0-40 down and even had four game points. On the last of those, Garcia opted for a drop shot when in hindsight, she should have put it away… it’s easy to say that from my viewing position! Kuznetsova broke and then served out the set to love.
The second set followed the same pattern with Garcia fighting back from a break down. The Frenchwoman put some pressure on Kuznetsova’s serve up 4-3 but Kuznetsova, spurred on by a time violation given by the umpire, scooped out a wonderful backhand crosscourt winner to hold serve to 4-4. Just like the first set, Garcia then came under pressure in her next service game. A game point at *4-4 *Adv-40 went missing and two backhand errors from Garcia followed.
Once again, Kuznetsova didn’t waver (and this is pretty noteable!) as she served out the win. Garcia showed some bright moments, mostly when she came forward, but the 35 winners were outweighed by 44 unforced errors. While Kuznetsova was a little wasteful on break points, converting just four out of 14, she showed impressive mental resolve to win the points that mattered at the crux of each set.
For the second time in their head-to-head, Stosur fought back from a set down to defeat Alison Riske. The Aussie was on the brink of defeat, saving a match point, before coming back to win, 4-6 7-6(5) 6-1. Riske had fought back from 0-3 down in the first set to pocket the opener. She played an excellent game at 4-4, hitting with excellent depth and producing a handful of smoking winners. The American continued to take control against a wayward Stosur in the second set.
Riske though had an absolute mare trying to serve it out. On match point up 6-4 *5-4 *40-30, Riske netted a BH as she was unable to hit through Stosur’s tricky slice (which she had dealt with well up till then). The American then produced back-to-back double faults to surrender her serve. The set went to the tiebreak where Stosur finally got her forehand going. Riske saved three set points (6-2 to 6-5 in the 2nd set TB) but presented with a short Stosur ball on the fourth set point, she netted a backhand.
Dropping just one point behind her first serve in the third set and benefiting from a growing tally of unforced errors from Riske, Stosur sauntered through the decider to seal the win in two hours and 25 minutes.
Head-to-head record: Kuznetsova and Stosur have split their eight previous match-ups on the WTA tour. Stosur has won their last three match-ups on hard court, but Kuznetsova has prevailed in their only two match-ups on clay. Both went the distance with Kuznetsova victorious in Paris (6-4 6-7(5) 6-3, 2009) and Madrid (5-7 6-2 7-6(5), 2015).
Final thoughts: It’s a shame these two have to meet so early but that is the nature of this Premier draw. Stosur’s already won nine matches on clay this year, going deep in both Prague and Madrid. She’s one of the fittest on the tour so i’d expect her to be up for this one. Kuznetsova pulled out of her previous clash with Stosur in Prague due to an abdominal injury and lost early in Madrid. She showed no signs of the injury in a solid first round win over Garcia. These two have played each other enough (as well as doubles together) to know each other’s games pretty well. I’d expect another very close battle… and i’d fancy Kuznetsova to edge it.