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Svetlana Kuznetsova: The Frustrating Wait Is Finally Over

PARIS - JUNE 06:  Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia poses with the trophy following her victory during the Women's Singles Final match against Dinara Safina of Russia on day fourteen of the French Open at Roland Garros on June 6, 2009 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Sudeshna BanerjeeAnalyst IJune 6, 2009

I finally got a chance to smile because of this year’s French Open.

 

For the past fortnight, I could only stare helplessly as Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga disappeared into oblivion one by one and left me shattered day by day...

 

But today it was not to be. Destiny it wasn't for them, but destiny it was for the 23-year-old St. Petersburg-born Svetlana Kuznetsova.

 

Yes, I had been rooting for this lady ever since she triumphed at Stuttgart, routing Dinara Safina, reaching the Rome Final only to be denied the title by the same Safina but nonetheless emerging as the second-best player on clay this year next only to Marat’s No. 1-ranked sister.

 

A calm and composed person, used to keeping her emotions at bay in a contrast to the mercurial Safina, the genial Sveta has always been one of the most low-profile soldiers from the populated Russian brigade.

 

At 19, this feisty Russian coming from a family of Olympic cycling champions won her first Grand Slam at the U.S. Open in 2004, even before the world realized who she was and perhaps even before she herself realized the profound importance of that moment.

 

High expectations only to be dented by trembling nerves followed, as she continued biting the dust in Grand Slam Finals, ending up as the vanquished to the great Justine Henin and also haplessly squandering huge leads in numerous other matches, only to earn herself the "choker" tag.

 

A desperate attempt to bear the fruit saw her change her coach three times in the last 12 months as she tried her best to bring her Grand Slam miseries to a halt, and the partnership finally clicked with Larisa Savchenko.

 

And immediately the confidence was beaming on the former World No. 2’s countenance, as she blitzed her way through the opening rounds to momentarily stutter and finally sail through in some of her sternest tests against Agnieszka Radwanska, Samantha Stosur and especially the unputdownable Serena Williams, that saw her eventually shed that dubious "choker" epithet.

 

A return to the familiar place—the Final of her "favourite" Grand Slam—followed; where she had once been steamrolled by Henin in 2006, this time she faced a familiar but formidable opponent in Safina, who was on a 16-match winning streak—the longest in the WTA this year.

 

The world waited for Safina to win her maiden Slam, but the gritty fighter in Kuznetsova was riding on her own destiny with the Suzanne Lenglen Cup beckoning her.

 

The awesome game was just intact and was never laid bare at any stage. The serves, the incredible athleticism, and the retrieving ability were admirable, as she obfuscated Safina with her pin-point accuracy.

 

The inside-out forehands, touted to be currently one of the best in the women’s game, continued to flabbergast Safina. As did the amazing sliding movement and deft touches at the net, which Safina failed to anticipate.

 

And the composure was stunning as a distraught Dinara continued to grimace, scream at herself, louden her grunts, and stare at her coach, as her hard-hitting, powerful game failed to gain its momentum under the heavy conditions and the lack of variety in her game gradually became more exposed.

 

And, finally, that long-awaited moment of truth arrived for Kuznetsova after 74 minutes, as a tearful Safina saw her second French Open Final appearance crumble to pieces with an anti-climactic double-fault, which Sveta only stared at to let the truth sink in...

 

How deserving it was that Sveta had to be presented her first ever French Open trophy by her childhood idol, none other than the legendary Steffi Graf, whom she admittedly met for the first time in her life.

 

How right the great Roger Federer and Justine Henin were, when they had once predicted that Svetlana Kuznetsova would be conquering the regal Paris clay...

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