Eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova opens her French Open campaign against a very tricky opponent in Christina McHale as the Russian looks to win the third Grand Slam title of her career. It would be a nervy start to the tournament for Kuznetsova, who has a favourable draw to progress deep and is one of the favourites to clinch the title after the fortnight.
Kuznetsova had a late career surge recently as she returned from some unfortunate injury problems to unexpectedly qualify for the WTA Finals last year and make her long-awaited return to the Top 10 of the rankings. With her game being at its peak once more in her career, Kuznetsova has a great chance of clinching the title in Paris for the second time.
After reaching a career-high ranking of 24 in 2012, McHale has had years of dull results as she failed to make any breakthroughs. Finding herself lingering outside the Top 50 in the rankings currently, the American is one of the most dangerous floaters in the draws as she could often produce some high-quality performances.
Kuznetsova’s 2017 clay court results
Svetlana Kuznetsova’s first clay court tournament this year was at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. There, she prevailed over last year’s Roland Garros semifinalist Kiki Bertens in over 2 hours and 30 minutes, triumphing in three sets in a battle of Top 20 players. However, she surprisingly fell to the inspired wildcard Laura Siegemund, who eventually went on to clinch the title after a Cinderella run.
Moving on to the Mutua Madrid Open, Kuznetsova saved match points against Alison Riske in the second round and ultimately produced some impressive performances to reach the semifinals, where a win would see her return to the top five for the first time since 2010. Being too passive against her doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic, Kuznetsova failed to take her chances and exited the tournament at the semi-final stage. Her last tournament before the French Open saw the Russian losing in the third round of the Internazionali BNL D'Italia to Daria Gavrilova despite having the lead twice in the final set.
McHale’s 2017 clay court results
Christina McHale has had a disappointing clay court season thus far, owning a mere 1-4 win-loss record through four tournaments in two months. McHale played her first clay court tournament this year at the J&T Banka Prague Open, where she surprisingly fell to qualifier Beatriz Haddad Maia in the first round. Her poor run continued in Madrid where she lost a huge 6-4, 4-1 lead against home favourite Lara Arruabarrena, faltering in three sets as she failed to convert her chances.
Facing against former world number one and five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova in the first round of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia, McHale put up a tough fight but failed to provide any real challenge, wasting leads in the first set as the American lost the match in straight sets. Her losing streak finally stopped at six as she came from losing the first set 0-6 to winning her first round match in Strasbourg against former Top 10 player Andrea Petkovic. Despite so, McHale was unable to produce a win against clay-court specialist Carla Suarez Navarro in the second round, falling in straight sets once more.
For Christina McHale to have any chance of triumphing in this match-up, the American has to be at her best and could not slip up in any given moments. Her groundstrokes have to be precise, solid and consistent so as to allow herself to dictate play throughout the match. This will then prevent Kuznetsova from playing at her comfortable pace and would be playing catch-up all the while. Her serving placement would have to be smart to help her move Kuznetsova all around the court, paving the way for her to finish the points quickly at the net and dictate play.
On paper, Svetlana Kuznetsova is the obvious favourite to clinch the victory as she is the player with much more weapons and the one with better form. Her results on the clay courts had been fair, and being a former champion here in Paris only further intimidates McHale. Kuznetsova has to ensure that her unforced error count does not overwhelm her as her offensive game may backfire on her. However, against such a player like McHale, Kuznetsova cannot be too passive or else she would be outhit.