The perfect day for Russia continued in the second match on the schedule of Stadium 1 as Svetlana Kuznetsova inched past Karolina Pliskova in the blockbuster semifinal between two top 10 players, edging through in two tight tiebreak sets. This sealed up the dream final for fans of the Russian players as the final on Monday would be a showdown between Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Vesnina, who strolled past Kristina Mladenovic earlier during the night.
Kuznetsova loses lead but maintains her composure
A very sloppy game from Pliskova started the match as she failed to find her first serves in the early stages of the match, allowing Kuznetsova to take advantage and attack on those second serves. The Russian eventually closed out the opening game of the match by benefitting from a backhand unforced error by the Czech, earning the early break of service to get the lead.
Kuznetsova then successfully consolidated the break in a nervy service game, relying on her consistent serving to open up a 2-0 lead. Pliskova’s slow start to the match continued as she allowed Kuznetsova to extend the rallies and make it as long as possible, and was under the dictatorship of the Russian’s strong and consistent groundstrokes, unable to play her normal game and make her breakthrough.
Therefore, Kuznetsova soon extended her lead to a double break advantage, looking to close out the first set as soon as possible. Going up 40-15 in the fourth game, Kuznetsova had the golden opportunity to extend her lead to a formidable four games on the scoreboard. However, the Russian seemed to be affected by her nerves as she hit some wobbly groundstrokes and started to play a leaky game, allowing Pliskova to get back into the match after she earned one of the breaks back and got onto the scoreboard.
The Czech then had her first service hold of the match as she comfortably held serve to lessen the deficit to just one game despite being down-and-out just recent moments ago. After an exchange of holds, Kuznetsova almost earned the next breakthrough as she earned a break point, which was also a set point, in the eighth game of the set as Pliskova failed to find her first serves once more.
Nevertheless, the world number three came up with some impressive serving to save herself from the brink, including hitting an ace to save the set point. An on-court coaching session then helped Pliskova to break serve for the first time in the match, returning level all of a sudden and keeping the set wide open once again. The set was eventually brought into a tiebreak after yet another exchange of service holds, and Kuznetsova seemed to have the upper hand once again as she jumped out to a huge 3-0 lead.
After Pliskova won the points on her service, Kuznetsova affirmed her lead as she won the next two points and earned another mini break to own four set point opportunities. Despite a slight hiccup, Kuznetsova finally converted her fifth set point as she hit a wonderful backhand down the line winner to seal up the first set 7-6 after 61 minutes of play.
Kuznetsova edges tight set
The start of the second set went really well for Pliskova as she relied on a sloppy service game from Kuznetsova the earn the early service break and take the lead, looking to win the set and level the match. Some great defense and a couple of unforced errors coming from Pliskova’s racquet then saw the Czech lose the advantage as soon as possible, with Kuznetsova breaking straight back to increase her chances for a straight sets victory.
It looked to be Kuznetsova’s match to lose as she held her serve to 15 and then took a 15-30 lead in her next return game, but failed to win the crucial points as Pliskova held her nerves to remain level in the second set. A second consecutive hold to 15 saw Kuznetsova have a 3-2 lead, but there were scary scenes at the end of the game as Pliskova accidentally mishit a ball which ended up hitting the chair umpire Julie Kjendlie. Fortunately, the ball hit her shoulder instead of her face and she was alright despite the huge impact.
The Russian then earned three more break points in the sixth game, and this time it was much of a similar story to the previous game as Pliskova hit some consistent and powerful groundstrokes to fend off the tough challenge and barely hold onto her serve. This match soon looked like a battle of big servers, which was compared to an ATP match between Ivo Karlovic and John Isner by some fans, as the returners only managed to win seven points from then on.
The set was eventually extended into a second straight tiebreak to decide the proceedings, with nothing able to separate both players. An exchange of points won by the servers started the tiebreak before Kuznetsova started her excellent run of winning three consecutive points, hitting an impressive second serve ace in the process.
She did not lose her way from then on, eventually closing out the match with some good defense and an error by Pliskova on match point. The last point was actually able to sum up the story of the whole match in a nutshell as Kuznetsova relied on her solid groundstrokes and backhand slices to consistently trouble Pliskova, and the Russian eventually closed out the point after the Czech hit an unforced error at the net.
Pliskova was particularly disappointing on her service as she only managed to hit 51 percent of first serves, winning only 72 percent of those points. Kuznetsova’s statistics were much more consistent, winning 67 percent of first serve points as she served 64% of first serves. The crucial points were the second serves, though, as Pliskova was constantly unable to find her first serves at the most crucial moments. Winning 48 percent of those points as compared to Kuznetsova’s 57, the Czech would be very disappointed.
Despite having a high winner count of 42, Pliskova also gave out 36 unforced errors to go along with it. Whereas Kuznetsova managed to hit just 18 unforced errors, half of those Pliskova hit, but just ended up with 28 winners as the Czech was the more proactive player of the match.
Next up for Kuznetsova: A familiar foe
The only obstacle separating Kuznetsova from her maiden Indian Wells title would be her compatriot and good friend Elena Vesnina, the surprise finalist. Having an excellent run of her own, Vesnina would look to create a major upset when they play on Monday as it would just be the second final in the history of Indian Wells, and for both times it would be an all-Russian clash.