World number 28 Svetlana Kuznetsova proved that her form is back in the running, after defeating the dangerous and unseeded Wang Qiang in the opening round of the Istanbul Cup. It was a particularly impressive performance with the Russian hitting 21 winners to just 15 unforced errors while Wang was overly erratic throughout the match, mishitting 17 shots but managed to produce 15 clean winners as well.
This was Kuznetsova’s first win since September 2017, and this is a confidence booster for the Russian especially after a worrying wrist injury which sidelined her for months.
Kuznetsova grabs the wobbly first set after 45 minutes
It was a messy start to the match for both players with errors dominating the rallies, but Kuznetsova was able to produce some impressive forehands, including one on break point, which earned her the break in the opening game. Hitting with precision and accuracy, the Russian overpowered Wang and her consistency soon allowed her to storm towards a commanding 3-0 lead in the early stages.
Things were working well for Kuznetsova and she finally seemed to have regained her match fitness after a long battle with injuries, fending off a break point to consolidate for a formidable four-game advantage which hinted that the set was close to being over.
However, Wang was determined to put up a tough fight and she started to add onto the pace of her shots, being more aggressive and preventing Kuznetsova from making her clinical down-the-line shots, breaking back twice and found herself serving to stay in the set at 3-5 down. Nonetheless, Kuznetsova continued to have the upper hand on the return, sending in several vicious returns to take the opening set 6-3.
Kuznetsova overcomes mid-match wobble to grab the win
Some fantastic all-court coverage from the Russian veteran saw her saving a break point in the opening game of the second set, getting the nervy service hold as Wang looked to produce a mighty comeback with a new mindset. However, errors on the forehand wing saw the Chinese putting herself in danger once more, soon finding herself down 0-3 in the second set as defeat loomed ahead.
Nothing was going right for the lower-ranked Wang, who faced yet another break point on serve in the fourth game. Unexpectedly, this time Kuznetsova was overly-passive which gave the Chinese confidence, allowing her to carve out the tight service hold. Inability to find her first serve coupled alongside several blatant forehand errors put Wang back into contention all of a sudden, leveling the scores at 3-3 with Kuznetsova failing to convert a 0-40 lead in the sixth game as well.
The lack of match practice was clearly reflected in Kuznetsova’s game as she failed to pounce on her opportunities, allowing her opponent to take advantage and earn a lifeline. The longest game of the encounter followed this time with the Russian finally taking her chances and converting on her fourth break point in the 22-point game which lasted a marathon.
This gave Kuznetsova the golden opportunity to serve out the match, but her struggles on serve came back to haunt her. Coming up with some impressive tennis, Wang earned two break back points but her unforced errors would forever remain a nightmare, with Kuznetsova ultimately sealing the win in an hour and 41 minutes of play.