Kuznetsova ends Barty's bid to reclaim No. 1 spot
Svetlana Kuznetsova returns a shot against Ashleigh Barty during the WTA Cincinnati Masters semifinals match on Saturday. - Reuters
Cincinnati - Current number one Osaka retires with a knee injury.
Resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova denied Ashleigh Barty a chance to reclaim the world number one ranking on Saturday as the Russian veteran thrashed the Australian 6-2, 6-4 in the WTA Cincinnati Masters semifinals.
Barty could have re-taken the top ranking she lost last week to Japan's Naomi Osaka had she reached the final.
The shutdown triumph by the 34-year-old double Grand Slam winner leaves injured Osaka atop the rankings.
Current number one Osaka retired with a knee injury on Friday. But the US Open alarm bells were ringing for Osaka less than two weeks before the start of her title defense at Flushing Meadows after a left knee injury saw her retire against Sofia Kenin - sending the American into the semis with a 6-4, 1-6, 2-0 victory.
Kuznetsova will play for the title on Sunday against the winner of a later semifinal between Americans Sofia Kenin and Madison Keys.
Barty, who had rallied from a set down to win her previous two matches, was off the boil against Kuznetsova, who is back on form after several seasons of injuries, including a wrist problem.
Kuznetsova was delayed in her hardcourt summer start due to US visa problems, but won two rounds last week in Canada before getting her American entry sorted. Kuznetsova, who trained as a teen in Barcelona, has returned to her Spanish tennis roots, re-hiring former coach Carlos Martinez, who has also worked with Spaniards Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Vicente and Rafael Nadal's occasional doubles partner Marc Lopez.Martinez coached Kuznetsova to 2016 titles Sydney and Moscow, which earned her a place in the year-end finals three years ago, and she remains pleased with the results. "It's amazing to be playing here again on center court after the injuries of the last few years," she said.
"I must admit, I did enjoy the time at home in Moscow, sleeping in my own bed. I was glad to have the time off.
"I'm back now and feeling no pressure. I never though I'd be back to this level so quickly," the former Roland Garros and US Open champion said.
"I'm playing good tennis again."
Kuznetsova broke Barty three times in the opening set and ran off eight consecutive games to reach 2-0 in the second set.
From there, it was just a matter of time, with the player who came into the field on a wild card entry showing her best game.
Kuznetsova reached three match points after 67 minutes and converted on the first with a winner past Barty, who had more than 25 unforced errors, mainly off her forehand.
Kuznetsova, bidding for her 19th career title, now stands 15-8 in Cincinnati, the final major tuneup for the Open.