Two-time Grand Slam singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova is arguably playing the best tennis of her career in almost a decade. The former world number two reached the WTA Finals in Singapore last year and re-entered the top ten. Kuznetsova has 17 WTA career titles to her name, and she will be looking to win her fourth Premier Mandatory title. The 31-year-old has won two in Beijing and one in Miami.
This will be the eighth seed's 40th WTA career final, winning 17 of them and finishing as a runner-up on 22 occasions. Despite winning the French Open in 2009 and US Open in 2004, she has been a runner-up at both events in 2007 and 2006 respectively. Furthermore, the Russian advanced to the final at the Miami Open last year, defeating the three-time defending champion Serena Williams en route but lost to fellow two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka in the final, who completed the Sunshine Double.
On the other side of the net to Kuznetsova will be compatriot and 14th seed Elena Vesnina. Vesnina has had considerable success on the doubles circuit with fellow countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova. The Russian are the reigning Olympic Gold medalists and WTA Finals champions, and have two Grand Slam doubles titles under their belt by winning the French Open in 2013 and US Open in 2014.
The duo has reached all four Slam finals in doubles losing in Melbourne in 2014 and Wimbledon in 2015. The 14th-seeded Russian has only reached 10 WTA singles finals in her career, finishing as a runner-up on seven occasions with three of those coming at Premier-level events. However, Vesnina's two title triumphs came in 2013 at the International tier event in Hobart against Mona Barthel, and a Premier-level title on the grass courts of Eastbourne in 2013, dispatching Jamie Hampton.
This will be the second all-Russian final to be contested at the BNP Paribas Open with the first one taking place in 2006 when Maria Sharapova defeated Elena Dementieva in straight sets.
Kuznetsova's route to the final
The two-time Grand Slam champion has played scintillating tennis this week in the Californian Desert. Kuznetsova still has the desire and hunger for tennis and to achieve more things in her career. The eighth seed received a bye in the opening round, and she began her quest against Sweden's Johanna Larsson. The veteran dispatched the Swede in straight sets, 7-6 (3), 6-4 advancing to the second round. In the following round, it was a battle of veterans as Kuznetsova took on 26th seed Roberta Vinci, the 2015 US Open runner-up. It was a three-set tussle with the Russian having a bit too much for Vinci, dispatching the Italian, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1. In the fourth round, the eighth seed prevailed over 21st Caroline Garcia, 6-1, 6-4, advancing to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2008.
It was an all-Russian quarterfinal with the eighth seed taking on 19th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Pavlyuchenkova outplayed Kuznetsova in their fourth round meeting at the Australian Open, nevertheless, the eighth seed overpowered her compatriot, 6-3, 6-2. The semifinals required two tight tiebreakers for Kuznetsova to defeat third seed and last year's semifinalist Karolina Pliskova, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2). It will be the former world number two's third final in the Californian Desert after losing back-to-back finals to Daniela Hantuchova and Ana Ivanovic in 2007 and 2008.
Vesnina's route to the final
Like Kuznetsova, Vesnina has faced four fellow seeded opponents on her way through to the biggest singles final of her career. The 14th seed received a bye in the opening round but had a tough second round match with Shelby Rogers. Rogers is no pushover as she upset 2015 champion Simona Halep in the first round of the Australian Open. Vesnina defeated Rogers, 6-4, 7-5, and in the third round, the reigning Olympic Gold doubles medalist had a three-set tussle with Timea Babos. Vesnina dropped the second set easily but dispatched the 25th seeded Hungarian, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4, advancing to the fourth round for the second time. Arguably, the Russian's best performance to date was in the fourth round against two-time Grand Slam champion and soon-to-be world number one Angelique Kerber.
The German was erratic but Vesnina was too good and defeated Kerber, 6-3, 6-3. In the quarterfinals, the Russian was paired with 12th seed Venus Williams. It was an entertaining contest, however, Vesnina struggled towards the conclusion of the second set but she regrouped and defeated the seven-time Grand Slam winner, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3. Vesnina now leads their head-to-head 4-2. In the semifinals, it was a clinical performance against 28th seed Kristina Mladenovic, who has been playing inspiring tennis as of late. The 30-year-old sealed the deal to reach the final with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.
Surprisingly the two Russians have only met on two occasions. Their meetings are split at one win apiece with Vesnina defeating Kuznetsova in their round of 32 meeting in Dubai, 6-3, 3-6, 6-0 in 2009, and Kuznetsova defeated her compatriot in the semifinals on the clay courts of Estoril in 2014.
Who wins the Championship?
This is a good opportunity for both players to win the BNP Paribas Open title. Kuznetsova has the better athleticism out of the two players and has more firepower in her shots. However, the two-time Grand Slam champion lets nerves get the better of her, which is why Pavlyuchenkova was able to beat her in Melbourne. On the other hand, the 14th seed is a good finesse player, and her weight of shots and variety could pose Kuznetsova some problems.
Vesnina has done well to reach the final in Indian Wells which was certainly unexpected. The Russian lost in the first round of qualifying last year but in the latter of half 2016 she reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at Wimbledon and finished ranked inside the top 20 for the first time in her career. Should Vesnina, defeat her compatriot, she will rise to a new career-high ranking of 13 on Monday, which would be a great achievement for her.
This intriguing final will take place at 11 am local time inside Stadium 1, and it would give both players a boost to go into the next Premier Mandatory event in Miami with the BNP Paribas Open title in their cabinet. Both players have shown their fighting qualities this week, and have played tremendous tennis but Kuznetsova's experience of playing in big finals in big stadia will play a part and should get her over the line.
Prediction: Kuznetsova in straight sets