In a 14th meeting but first (!) on clay, Svetlana Kuznetsova will play Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round of the 2017 French Open on Sunday.
Kuznetsova d. Zhang Shuai, 7-6(5) 4-6 7-5 (R3)
For the second straight match, Kuznetsova was forced into a tense third set. Against a brave and valiant effort from Zhang Shuai, Kuznetsova eventually came out on top after three hours and nine minutes. Kuznetsova won the opening set but not without a detour – the number eight seed missed a break point at 4-2* and was then forced to save a set point before winning the first set on the tiebreak. Against another big hitter, granted not as flashy as Oceane Dodin in the previous round, Kuznetsova found herself on the defence with Zhang Shuai powering her way to the second set. Kuznetsova won just 14% of second serve points in the second set.
Kuznetsova started afresh in the third set and with more intent, tried to take control of the rallies. The heavy and damp conditions definitely favoured Kuznetsova but Zhang Shuai would not go down without a fight. Kuznetsova had a 5-2 lead and carved out two match points at *5-3 *40-15. Zhang Shuai had been incensed by a line call to the point that she was almost in tears. To her credit, the Chinese player used the disappointment to fire herself up and successfully broke back, and then held (with some help from Kuznetsova’s errant groundstrokes) to level up at 5-5.
At this stage I was convinced it was going to be another Kuznetsova heartbreaker. To my surprise, Kuznetsova settled down and played with smart tactics, using the conditions to her favour and hitting with heavy topspin to negate Zhang Shuai’s attack and keep her back. On her third match point, Kuznetsova sealed her place in the last 16.
Wozniacki d. Bellis, 6-2 2-6 6-3 (R3)
In a rain-interrupted match from Friday, Caroline Wozniacki eventually saw off CiCi Bellis with an emphatic finish. Back to the start and from a break down, Wozniacki won seven straight games to comfortably win the opening set. An aggressive Bellis began to dictate and take control against an increasingly frustrated, Wozniacki who lost her focus with her attention centred on the match being halted.
When the players returned, Bellis quickly wrapped up the second set. The American made the more promising start to the third set with an early break to lead *2-1. Bellis was unable to consolidate and was broken back to love. Although passive to begin with on the Saturday resumption, Wozniacki began to take a few more risks. Bellis buckled serving at *3-4 and Wozniacki finished the match in style with back-to-back aces… not something you often see from the Dane!
Head-to-head record: Wozniacki leads Kuznetsova, 7-6 in their head-to-head. The pair played twice at the Slams in 2016 with Kuznetsova winning at Wimbledon, 7-5 6-4 and Wozniacki prevailing at the US Open, 6-4 6-4.
Interesting stat: Wozniacki is into the fourth round of the French Open for the first time since 2010.
Final thoughts: I am loving all four of the R16 matches from the top half of the women’s draw and this is another very intriguing match-up. The fact they have never played on clay before could be key as Kuznetsova is clearly the better player on this surface. Wozniacki though, is competing well, as demonstrated by the way she was able to close out Bellis in the third round.
Kuznetsova’s level has been up and down this week – winning, while not at her best, will likely give her confidence though. The Russian player has been mostly on the defence for her last two matches but this one is likely to have a different dynamic.
On paper, it feels like a match that Kuznetsova should win rather comfortably. In reality, it’s likely to be much tougher! I’m wary, as always, but i’m going for Sveta in three.