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Kuznetsova returns to winning form

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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Last year, Svetlana Kuznetsova did not look like the 2004 U.S. Open champion, but the gritty Russian appears to have now regained her breakthrough season form of two years ago.

After struggling through her 2005 campaign, Kuznetsova re-committed herself this past offseason and now once again is performing like a top-10 star.

"I put in lots of work in December," Kuznetsova said. "I had a month and a half I was on the courts day and night. I was on my own, I was thinking what I wanted to do. Then I started to look at the people who play, and people have been out from the Tour and they come back and they win many tournaments, and I think I can do it, too. I was working with psychologists, I was working on myself, with many doctors, with people. I was just playing my matches, and I see if I play the right game I can make it. I'm just very excited about that. I hope to improve every match in more tournaments."

The sturdy Russian is fresh off her sixth career title, and her first-ever Tier I tournament championship, which came last week in Miami where she surprisingly captured the so-called "Fifth Slam," the NASDAQ-100 Open, compiling several big match wins along the way. It marked her first tour title since Bali in 2004.

Svetlana Kuznetsova
Svetlana Kuznetsova poses with the NASDAQ-100 Open championship trophy.
On her way to the lucrative Miami championship, Kuznetsova took out the likes of former world No. 1 Martina Hingis, current top-ranked star Amelie Mauresmo and another former No. 1, Maria Sharapova, who succumbed to her compatriot in straight sets in the all-Russian finale. Sharapova was riding a sizzling 11- match winning streak at the time, as she headed to south Florida after running the table at the Pacific Life Open in Indian Wells. The 2004 Wimbledon titlist Sharapova was also the runner-up in Miami (to Kim Clijsters) last year.

Kuznetsova staved off a match point in her third-round victory over the resurgent five-time Grand Slam champion Hingis at Crandon Park, and her win against Mauresmo marked the 200th singles victory of her career.

The 20-year-old Kuznetsova won a combined 24-of-36 games against Mauresmo and Sharapova and now finds herself inside the top 10 once again (10th). The 12th- seeded Kuznetsova beat a fourth-seeded Sharapova for the third time in five career meetings.

Kuznetsova is off to a fine 16-4 start this year, including her huge win in Miami and trips into semifinals in Sydney and Dubai. She also upset Mauresmo in order to reach the final four in Dubai, where she ultimately lost to former No. 1 Belgian star Justine Henin-Hardenne.

The St. Petersburg native Kuznetsova burst onto the scene in 2004, highlighted by her first Grand Slam title (U.S. Open) and a top-five finish in the world rankings. Only Lindsay Davenport and Mauresmo won more matches in '04. She corralled three titles and was a runner-up on four other occasions, as she appeared in seven finals. She topped Elena Dementieva in the second-ever all- Russian Grand Slam final at the U.S. Open, which she says is the greatest moment of her career to date.

But Kuznetsova struggled last season, reaching only one final and failing to capture a title. She suffered a first-round loss to open defense of her U.S. Open crown and nearly dropped out of the top 20. She competed in only two more '05 events after dropping her first match in Flushing.

This week, Kuznetsova, who soared as high as No. 4 in the world in 2004, is the fifth seed at the clay-court Bausch & Lomb Championships, where she is clearly one of the favorites.

Ace or double fault? Send your comments to Scott Riley at sriley@sportsnetwork.com.
Scott Riley


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