The first of Svetlana Kuznetsova’s 14 appearances at Indian Wells came in 2003. She was 17 years old. Kuznetsova that year won two matches before losing to a fellow Russian, Vera Zvonareva. There followed a trip to the quarterfinals, Kuznetsova in this case beaten by eventual champion, world number one Justin Henin. Later that year, the 19-year-old Kuznetsova would win the US Open singles title, her first of two singles majors (the other came at Roland Garros in 2009).
Her best efforts came at this tournament came when she reached the finals two straight years, back in 2007 to Daniela Hantuchova and 2008 versus Ana Ivanovic. There followed eight weak years in the desert, Kuznetsova only once winning two straight matches.
In large part, Kuznetsova’s Indian Wells journey is a microcosm of her career. Can it best be described as a sturdy rollercoaster? Of all the Russians, Kuznetsova ranks with Nadia Petrova as the most versatile – a playing style of forceful groundstrokes, sharp volleys, a reasonable serve, these tools in large part the result of significant training periods in Barcelona. But on other occasions, that versatility has been more of a curse, Kuznetsova often plagued by over-hitting and mental fragility.
At the end of 2015 – the year she turned 30 – Kuznetsova’s year-end ranking 25. This decline seemed to be the natural order of things. But then, in 2016, she staged a resurgence, finishing ninth in the world, her first top ten finish in seven years.
Kuznetsova today finds herself one match away from reaching the final at the BNP Paribas Open for the third time, engaged by the tennis in ways that once seemed unimaginable. “I think I enjoying the most now,” she said after a brisk 6-3, 6-2 quarterfinal win over her fellow Russian, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, “because the thing is when you're so young and you get to the top of the game, you don't value it so much.
Long a work horse, Kuznetsova has also changed her training habits. “When I used to play these tournaments, I used to practice hard in the days between,” she said. “Now I just go in the court and I see how I feel. If I don't feel like it, I just hit couple balls. Not training two hours is not going to make me play worse next day. It maybe will give me more energy. So I'm adjusting on my body and about my emotional statement, as well. So I'm listening to myself more.” Perhaps now, the roller-coaster phase of Kuznetstova’s career is over for good.