Svetlana Kuznetsova is through to the knock-out stages of the 2016 WTA Tour Finals. She won her first two matches of the tournament over both Agnieszka Radwanska and Karolina Pliskova. While the Russian lost to Garbine Muguruza on Friday, Kuznetsova’s 2-1 record in the event, with a win over Radwanska, still put her through to the semifinal round as the frontrunner from the White Group.
It has taken a tremendous late-season run for Kuznetsova to get into the position that she is in. As of two weeks ago, she was looking like an underdog just to make it into the field of eight at the year-end finals. The World No. 9 entered last week’s WTA Moscow event in need of nothing but a title to get her into Singapore. She achieved that with a victory in the final last weekend over Daria Gavrilova and has stayed the course so far.
However, in watching the Muguruza match, there could be some danger emerging in regard to Kuznetsova and her fatigue level. She beat the Spaniard in the opening set and then lost the last two 6-0, 6-1. You might think that a lack of motivation was the problem since she had already clinched top spot. However, if that was the case, I don’t think she wins the first set as she did. Furthermore, the year-end event awards prize money and ranking points for each individual match win, even in the round-robin stage.
I think the problem is that Kuznetsova has now played seven matches since her round-of-sixteen match win against Alize Cornet in Moscow on October 19th. That’s the number of matches a Grand Slam champion plays over a longer period of time. I think the fatigue caught up to her against the slumping Muguruza and I think Kuznetsova’s run of form is probably over.
The 31-year-old will face Dominika Cibulkova in the semifinals of the tour finals. The 5’3″ Pocket Rocket has given Kuznetsova all sorts of troubles over the years. Dating back to the start of the 2010 season, Cibulkova has won five straight against the Russian. Most recently they played at WTA Wuhan, a match that Cibulkova won in three sets. You have to go back to 2008 to find a match-win for Kuznetsova over the Slovak, and that was at a time in the Russian’s career when she was still a short-list Grand Slam contender. Furthermore, Cibulkova had yet to rise to the top-ten player that we know her as today.
Angelique Kerber remains more than just alive in the draw. She’ll face Radwanska on Saturday, a match-up that looks like the final ahead of the final. The two players, who are close friends, are close to one another on head-to-heads as well. After Radwanska defeated Pliskova on Friday she spoke with the ATP: “(Kerber) definitely played incredible tennis this year…I think it’s going to be a great challenge, and hopefully, I can play even better than (Friday against Pliskova).”
If the German can get through Radwanska then she’ll either have a relatively inexperienced player in Cibulkova or she should have a famished Kuznetsova to beat. Things are looking good for the World No. 1 to win her first title since claiming top spot on tour several weeks ago. Likewise, if Radwanska can pull off the upset on Saturday, then she looks great to repeat as tour champion.