Back in 2004, three of the four majors were won by Russians. Anastasia Myskina took the title in Paris. Then came Maria Sharapova’s victory at Wimbledon. Summer concluded with Svetlana Kuznetsova winning the US Open.
Since then, many other Russians have come and gone. Myskina retired in 2007 at the age of 24. Sharapova turned 30 this year and is now making her comeback after serving a 15-month long, drug-related suspension.
Then there is Kuznetsova. She will celebrate her 32nd birthday on June 30. She too has had her ups and downs. The peaks have included that US Open win, another Slam run at Roland Garros back in ’09 and 17 career titles. There have been lows, including frustrating early round losses at majors and 23 defeats in singles finals. It’s rare for a two-time Slam singles champion to have a losing record in tour finals.
But Kuznetsova perseveres. An injury-filled 2012 saw her year-end ranking slip to #72. The next three years saw her finish no higher than #21. But then, presto, in 2016, Kuznetsova zoomed back up to #9. Currently she’s holding that spot, generating consistent results all year, including a pair of round of 16 runs at the Australian Open and Roland Garros, as well as a runner-up effort at Indian Wells.
What’s been the key to Kuznetsova’s durability? Perhaps it helps that in her formative years, she left Russia to train on the clay of Barcelona. More than any Russian woman (save perhaps for the mercurial Nadia Petrova), Kuznetsova has a broad range of tools. Her groundstrokes, while of course mostly powerful in the contemporary manner, are somewhat less flat than many of her compatriots. The Kuznetsova serve, while not a fireball in the manner of Serena Williams, also can be spun into the corners nicely. And even more, Kuznetsova is quite comfortable in the front part of the court, a nimble and athletic volleyer.
At least this is how it works on her good days. On the bad days, Kuznetsova is a flurry of head-scratching decision-making. Why did she try and hit that forehand so hard? Why down-the-line? Why so flat when on the run? And then, the emotions spiral down.
Kuznetsova will shortly be playing her 14th Wimbledon. She reached the most recent of three quarterfinal appearances there back in 2007. Will she win Wimbledon? Doubtful. But to see her continue to compete is testimony to the building of a versatile playing style. Coaches, parents and players, please take heed.