Serena Williams’ ninth title at the Miami Open has been deferred another year. The world number one was upended 6-7, 6-1, 6-2 by 2006 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Although Williams’ battled her way into the fourth round, history was on her side. The ultimate time she was bounced prior to the quarterfinals was in 2000 by compatriot Jennifer Capriati.
With a 3-0 lead to open the match, Williams appeared in control. Not surprising considering her 8-2 record over her rival. However, the world number 19 returned the favor by capturing the next three games. After salvaging three break points on her serve to get 4-3, Williams failed to capitalize on two opportunities on her rival’s serve. As the Russian dug in her heels, the first set went to a tiebreaker. Serena claimed it in dramatic fashion with a return winner, a primordial scream followed.
At that point, Kuznetsova could have wilted under the humid South Florida weather. To the contrary, it was Williams who faded. Up 2-1, Kuznetsova performed like the two time majors champion that she is, forcing Williams into a bevy of mistakes. In less than 30 minutes, she pocketed the next four games to assure that the quarterfinalist would be settled by a third set.
For Williams the three time defending champion, more bad news was on tap. The top seed surrendered the initial gave of the decider at love. Soon, Kuznetsova sealed a double break 3-0 edge. Williams finally halted a run of eight consecutive games by her rival for 3-1. With an uncooperative serve and a sleuth of miscues from both the forehand and backhand wings, Williams had no reply to Kuznetsova’s brilliance. The Russian finished off the world number one and the match with a love hold.
Williams admitted that the loss is “obviously disappointing, but I’ve won here a lot, so it’s okay”. Neither climate nor injury was the cause “I’m used to this weather. . . This is what I practice in. . . physically I’m fine. . . I guess I didn’t move today. Maybe that was one of the things that didn’t work out for me. . . Actually don’t really feel pressure when I play here normally. I usually feel good.”
According to the world number one “I did the best that I could. I can’t win every match. The players come out and play me like they’ve never played before in their lives. . . I have to be 300% every day . . . I think overall I put a lot of expectations on myself more than anything. So that’s pretty hard to live up to.”
After losing a close first set, Kuznetsova did not sulk “I had opportunities and my goal was to keep a good level the whole match. . . I just knew I [could] hang in there and keep playing my game.”
The weather could be a distraction, so for Kuznetsova the key was to stay focused on her game “it’s really hot out there. . . I was trying to take longer time in between the points. . . I was trying to bring as many balls back as I could. . Some days she makes more winners; some days you should make her move more so she doesn’t do it. I think I did quite well what I had to do.”
The two clashed in the same round last year with Williams pocketing a straight sets triumph. Kuznetsova’s last win over the American was the French Open quarterfinal in 2009. The Russian recognizes that the road is long and treacherous to a second Miami Open trophy “I have so many people saying congratulations [they] feel like I won the title already. Not real. Now these days the tennis is extremely tough and each opponent is really difficult to play. I’m just focusing on tomorrow’s match. I don’t have too much time to rest. Really looking forward to give my best another day tomorrow.”
One of the keys to the match was Kuznetsova capturing 75% of first and 61% second serve points ” I knew I had to go for my serves. I think I barely did double fault. I knew I had to go aggressive. If I would give some easy second serves I would get my ass kicked out there. . . I’m not sure if I served that well, but it was good.”
By 2015 standards, for Williams thus far, 2016 has been a forgettable year. However Kuznetsova cited “she struggled a little bit probably because she lost Australian Open, but, she is still No. 1 and she still plays great. I don’t see much to be depressed about. . . players out of like top 30, they can beat anybody on good day. The thing is they cannot keep playing this good game. You can see some surprise wins in first two rounds. Everybody plays good now and goes for their shots and everybody is really strong. Not everybody can keep doing this during the whole tournament. . . I think every round is extremely tough now. I think will level of tennis is increased now, so it’s difficult.”
Upsets was the order of the day. In the first match, Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinszki shocked 2012 Miami Open champion Agnieszka Radwanska. Subsequent to winning only two games the first set, the Swiss outplayed the world number three to record a 2-6, 6-4, 6-2 to advance to her maiden quarterfinal in Miami. Simona Halep, ranked fifth, came through her contest with Britain’s Heather Watson unscathed with a 6-3, 6-4 victory.