Believe in Svetlana Kuznetsova
By James Henry
(August 17, 2019) CINCINNATI — Believe today and not tomorrow.
That is the Russian mentality of taking risks — an attitude that has helped propel former World No.2 Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion, to her first-ever final at the Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati.
Kuznetsova, a wildcard, upset top seed Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals. That was the fourth seeded competitor she has beaten this week, following wins over No. 11 Anastasija Sevastova, No. 8 Sloane Stephens and No. 3 Karolína Plíšková, as well as unseeded Dayana Yastremska.
The resurgent Russian now will face 2017 U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys, who defeated fellow American Sonya Kenin 7-5, 6-4, for the title.
“In Russia, we say believe today and not tomorrow. So, some people can have not much money, but they will spend everything today. We say we don’t take money to the grave. You never know,” Kuznetsova said.
“It’s something you have to enjoy today. We go crazy. We go for everything. So, sometimes patience works good.
“I think it’s a culture, it’s in DNA, it’s in everything. Also in the environment, where you live in Russia and how the times are tough, you don’t know what’s gonna be tomorrow, if it’s gonna happen. So, you rather have something good today.”
Kuznetsova, winner of the U.S. Open in 2004 and the French Open in 2009, said momentum once again is on her side.
She was forced to miss the beginning of this season because of a wrist injury and then hurt her knee.
“I was coming here trying to enjoy the tennis, and I still have the same goal. Taking losses not so hard on myself, as the wins, as well. Yeah, I’m really happy I’m in the finals, but it’s not so happy or end of the life if I lose or amazing,” she said, adding that she is focused on keeping it simple by just playing each point.
“I’m still happy person. I enjoy what I do. And this is the main thing, to stay stable everywhere in the life.”
It feels good to still be accomplishing firsts in her career, Kuznetsova said.
“I’m not really analyzing person, but somehow, like, on my intuition, I’m doing so much better, not repeating so many of my mistakes. Just playing smarter and wiser now,” she said.
“At 34, I should start, I think,” she added with a smile.
At set point in the first set against Australian Barty, Kuznetsova ran around a forehand on serve and returned it down the line — an uncommon shot decision.
“I always love that shot. Just in Spain they teach me to go crosscourt. They say it’s more stable. And the thing is why Russian people go so well with Spanish tennis, because we are, like, really crazy and really go 100% and risk it. Spanish, they put us calmer,” she said.
“So, there I was going for Russian way. Sometimes I put patience, but then something Russian comes out. You cannot hold it all the time,” she smiled.
Kuznetsova, who will celebrate the 20th anniversary of her professional tennis career next year, trained as a teenager in Barcelona. She said she still hears those Spanish voices in her head.
“I think everything on the court. But the thing is what I found out really that I cannot work with people who speak Russian, because I speak Spanish tennis in my head,” she said.
“So, when coach tells me something, Russian coach, first of all, they don’t get my game, with all the respect. Russians don’t get what the Spanish want to play, like topspin, forehands. Spanish don’t get Russian ways.
“I came to Spain when I was 14, and they taught me everything. I speak Spanish tennis in my head. I won’t understand the language of Russian coaches, like, it’s different.”
She has returned to those Spanish roots and rehired former coach Carlos Martinez, who also currently is working with 22-year-old Daria Kasatkina.
“First of all, well, when I ask Carlos if he could help me, he was just starting to work with Dasha. So, it was everything confusion. I said, look, I don’t want to interrupt. I understand Dasha needs him, because she has really long career future and she has really great potential,” Kuznetsova said.
“So, then he said, I’ll try to help you. I will give you my coaches, which works for me. Like, I don’t need Carlos 24/7 right now, and I’m more than happy what he does for me right now.
“And I spoke to Dasha. I said, look, I can offer you my help in case you need anything. I have a little bit of experience on the circuit, and I can help you out with things and I appreciate if we could share Carlos the times you don’t use him.
“So, that’s it. She seems to be fine. I appreciate that. And I have another guy, so I’m really fine with that.”