Kuznetsova sets her sights on finally claiming the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy
31-year-old Russian has fallen just short on three occasions
After three finals appearances over 13 years, tour veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova has set her sights on finally laying claim to the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships trophy.
The 31-year-old Russian has fallen just short on three occasions, finishing as runner-up to Justine Henin in 2004, Elena Dementieva in 2008 and Caroline Wozniacki in 2011. But the tour veteran is now playing her best tennis in years and after Wimbledon last year her efforts were rewarded with a return to the top 10 for the first time since 2010.
She continued to go from strength to strength during the second half of the 2016 season, retaining her Moscow title, reaching the semifinals of Wuhan and Tianjin and the quarterfinals of Montreal and Cincinnati before finishing the year with a run to the semifinals of the WTA Finals in Singapore. Her run to the fourth round at the Australian Open this year before falling to Anastasia Pavyluchenkova saw her climb in the rankings to number eight.
With her ranking restored and dozens of wins under her belt, Kuznetsova has gained in confidence and senses that she has earned a new respect from her rivals.
"People see me differently now because I'm a top 10 player again," she said. "Players will only see you by the ranking, and ranking reflects everything. You can't cheat the ranking, that's for sure!
"All players want to beat me. Of course, everyone expects good tennis from me and that can be hard to deal with. But I feel confident, I feel happy and healthy. Those are the main things and I love the game. I enjoy it."
Her biggest challenge has often been in finding consistency, and that is reflected in her results at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships. As well as her three finals she has reached the semifinals twice, but she has also twice lost to Julia Goerges in the first round, twice lost to a qualifier and been beaten by wild card Sania Mirza. In 2013 she even had to fight her way through the qualifying rounds.
"I would love to take some of the consistency into this season. In the last few years, I haven't been so good," she admits. "I was always there, but couldn't quite flip the switch. I would love to stay with the switch on, because it's the key for me. I feel that I'm playing as well as the best in the world, and I have a chance to beat them and be ranked among them everywhere I go. It's a great feeling because I worked really hard to be there."
She will be playing in Dubai for the 14th time, missing just one year since her debut in 2003, and Colm McLoughlin, executive vice chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, the tournament owners and organisers, has witnessed all of her ups and downs.
"Svetlana Kuznetsova has played at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships more times than any other player on the WTA Tour," McLoughlin observed. "It is a measure of her immense talent as well as her dedication and hard work over so many years that she is still able to count herself as one of the very best players in the world. How fitting it would be if she can finally claim the trophy as her own. We are pleased to welcome Svetlana Kuznetsova back to Dubai. She has always been a contender for the title, and her climb back up the rankings proves she still has what it takes to lift the trophy" said tournament director Salah Tahlak
"Competition has always been fierce, and the battle for the title this year will be tougher than ever but the tournament has produced many surprises over the years and it is impossible to predict who will emerge as the winner."
Kuznetsova is just one of seven top 10 players who will be chasing the title, as well as a host of others who have proved just as capable of claiming the sought-after trophy.
Heading the chase for glory will be world number two and 2016 Australian and US Open champion Angelique Kerber, 2016 French Open winner Garbine Muguruza, WTA Finals winner Dominika Cibulkova, 2017 Brisbane champion Karolina Pliskova, 2017 Sydney winner Johanna Konta and former Dubai champions Caroline Wozniacki, Sara Errani and Agnieszka Radwanska.
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