So far on clay
It’s certainly been a mixed clay court season for Kuznetsova so far. The Russian started at the Prague Open, where she recorded tough wins over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, Madison Brengle and Monica Puig, before having to withdraw from the semifinal with injury. There was also disappointment at the Mutua Madrid Open, where she lost in the first round to Laura Siegemund. The ninth seed didn’t look as if she was fully over her injury in Madrid, and she’ll need to be back at full fitness to have a strong chance here.
Garcia certainly hasn’t had a strong clay court season so far. The Frenchwoman lost in the first round at the Volvo Car Open to Irina-Camelia Begu and also lost in the first round at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix to Begu’s fellow Romanian, Monica Niculescu. However, she did win a match in Madrid, through the retirement of Johanna Konta, before losing to Dominika Cibulkova in the second round. Garcia did split her Fed Cup matches on clay, losing to Kiki Bertens but beating Arantxa Rus; Garcia may need to play better than she has in the past few weeks here.
Kuznetsova has played some strong tennis this year, and to try and secure victory she should to try and bring the level that she has brought to her best performances this year. The Russian will need to serve well and should also look to defend well, considering the power Garcia can punch, though should also look to try and vary her play style, as she arguably has the better all-around game of the two. However, despite the positives of her season, she has put in some poor performances, and she must be careful to not make too many errors against a potentially consistent opponent.
Garcia will have to play better than she has for the majority of this season, though she will be confident after some good doubles results and it will be interesting to see if she can bring that to her singles game. She cannot afford to make too many errors and must try to finish the points off early, as Kuznetsova is more likely to win the longer rallies. The Frenchwoman will also need to serve well, though should also try to use her doubles experience and try to dictate play at the net.
Another factor that makes this match so interesting is that the head to head is tied at 1-1. Garcia won the first meeting between the two, at the Australian Open in 2015, in straight sets, though Kuznetsova battled to a three-set win at the Miami Open earlier this year. That could give the Russian some confidence, though it was extremely tight, heading to a final set tiebreak, and Garcia may be encouraged by her performance in that match.
Kuznetsova is the better clay court player, and that should be an advantage here. She has played some great tennis this season and with the fact that she’s in Rome suggesting she is fully fit, she should have too much for Garcia here. However, Garcia has a big game and shouldn’t make it easy.
Prediction: Svetlana Kuznetsova in three sets