Appropriately, the two women who have excelled on clay this year, world number one Dinara Safina and world number seven Svetlana Kuznetsova battled in the last round of the French Open. In this third all-Russian major final of the Open era, Kuznetsova pounded Safina 6-4, 6-2 to get her first ‘Coupe Suzanne Lenglen’.
With a dropshot on the very first point which Safina easily put away for a forehand winner, Kuznetsova revealed that she was nervous. Consequently, Safina took advantage and broke immediately. However, with three forehand errors and a double fault from Safina, Kuznetsova was on the board. Now more relaxed, Kuznetsova closed out a love game with a forehand crosscourt winner for 2-1. After Safina held with difficulty, Kuznetsova lost her way in a 40-15 game. With a backhand service return winner, Safina had break point. Boldly, with a serve and volley winner, Kuznetsova brushed aside the deficit and went on to secure the game. Serving at 3-4, Safina faced a 0-30 disadvantage for the second straight game. With a penetrating backhand return, Kuznetsova got to triple break point. Then, when a backhand crosscourt skidded off the line for a winner, Svetlana took a 5-3 lead. But, with four successive errors by her rival, Dinara broke back. Yet, Svetlana stayed calm. With two forehand winners and a spectacular backhand volley, Kuznetsova arrived at double set point. She converted when a heat packed backhand down the line forced Dinara’s forehand to find the bottom of the net.
In the initial stages of the second set, both women held serve although errors dominated. After Kuznetsova netted a backhand and forehand stroke for 0-30, she induced three forehand errors from Dinara for game point. Later, Kuznetsova secured the game for 3-2. With Safina’s inconsistency on first serve, this proved the turning point in the match. As a result of a double fault, a backhand crosscourt long and a forehand error, Safina stared at double break point. When Dinara overhit a forehand up the line, Svetlana obtained a 4-2 edge. Despite both players’ reputation for mental fragility, Safina had improved significantly in that area in the past year. Yet, after losing serve, Safina turned to her coach asking: “why am I such a chicken?” After consolidating the break, Kuznetsova’s prayer of not having to serve out the match was answered. With a couple of huge forehands, Kuznetsova got to 30 all. Then, when Safina made another backhand mistake, Svetlava had match point. Safina capped a horrible afternoon with a double fault to give Kuznetsova her first French Open title.
Reflecting on what transpired after the match, Safina essentially admitted that the number one ranking weighed her down because she “ put pressure on [herself] and [she] just wanted to win”. Moreover, she failed to ‘stay mentally tough’ and at times felt ‘desperate on court’. On the other hand, Kuznetsova cited “ I just wanted to do my best… I don’t push pressure on myself . . . if it works out great”. Maybe the major lessons that Kuznetsova deducted from blowing two set leads in the quarters versus Serena Williams and in the semis against Samantha Stosur were the importance of fighting on and knowing when to control one’s emotion. Five years after winning the U.S Open and coming up short on two other occasions, Kuznetsova is a deserving champion.