Svetlana Kuznetsova seeks a third Qatar Open final when she faces Belarusian, Aryna Sabalenka in Doha on Friday.
Kuznetsova vs Sabalenka is live from Doha in Friday, 28 February from 5:00pm local time/ 2:00pm GMT
Kuznetsova was a finalist in Doha in 2004 and 2007, losing to Anastasia Myskina and Justin Henin respectively, but the former world No. 2 had not made a semi-final at the tournament since then, until this week.
The 34-year-old has glided through the Doha draw without dropping a set, scoring identical 6-2 6-2 victories over Cagla Buyukakcay and Iga Swiatek in the opening two rounds before benefiting from a walkover against Amanda Anisimova in the third round.
That break did little to stop her rhythm, as she was back on court on Thursday to record a fine 6-4 6-4 victory over Belinda Bencic in the quarter finals. The brilliant Russian struck 39 winners and only 15 unforced errors in the one-hour 36-minute victory, registering a record-equaling 19th Doha match win in the process. Kuznetsova joins Caroline Wozniacki on 19 wins on Doha- no other player has managed more victories at the tournament.
Kuznetsova is competing in Doha for the first time since 2016, after skipping the last three editions due to injuries. A wrist injury kept her away from the tour in the first three months of 2019, and she struggled for form following her return in April. The Russian had slipped to 198th in August, but almost out of nowhere, she launched a run to the Cincinnati final, beating top-ten players, Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty along the way before falling short against Madison Keys. She ended last season at 53rd in the world.
She didn’t have a great start to 2020, losing in the first round in Hobart, and in the second round at the Australian Open and St. Petersburg, but she’s found some form in Doha, and will attempt to reach her 43rd career final when she faces Aryna Sabalenka on Friday.
While Kuznetsova is competing in Doha for the 11th time, Sabalenka is making her debut at the tournament, and it’s gone fairly well so far for the Belarusian so far.
Unlike Kuznetsova, who hasn’t encountered much troubles in her route to the Doha semi-finals, Sabalenka has had to come through a couple of three-setters against Anett Kontaveit and Saisai Zheng to reach the last four.
The world No. 13 needed over two hours to score a 7-5 2-6 7-5 victory over Kontaveit in the first round, but she had no such problems against Maria Sakkari, dispatching the Greek 6-3 6-0 in under an hour. However, she was required to dig deeper again in the quarter finals, fighting back from a set down; and a break down in the final set, to beat Zheng 3-6 7-6 6-3 after two hours and 21 minutes in very windy conditions.
“I was just trying to push myself to fight for each point”, Sabalenka said. “And she was playing really well, moving really good and there was so many balls coming back on my side. I was just trying to go for it, like go through everything, especially with conditions here. And I’m just happy that I could handle this pressure and could find the way how to win this match in these conditions.”
Sabalenka is into her second semi-final of the season, having also made the last four in Adelaide earlier in the year (lost to Dayana Yastremska). Her other WTA results in 2020 have been a second round loss to Kristyna Pliskova in her season opener in Shenzhen (where she was defending champion); an opening round exit to Carla Suarez Navarro at the Australian Open, and a quarter final in Dubai, where she was beaten by Simona Halep.
Can the Belarusian advance to her first final of the season on Friday?
Sabalenka and Kuznetsova have shared their two previous matches, with Sabalenka scoring a 6-4 6-3 victory in their only previous hard court encounter at Indian Wells in 2018, and Kuznetsova responding with a 7-5 6-4 win in Madrid last year. Sabalenka has got the power to hit through Kuznetsova, but the windy conditions in Doha will make things very tricky against a player with as much craft and tactical nous as Kuznetsova.