Svetlana Kuznetsova must have experienced a chilling feeling of deja vu yesterday before pulling herself together to secure a tremendous 7-6, 5-7, 7-5 quarter-final victory over Serena Williams, the world No 2. Kuznetsova had been beaten five times in her previous six encounters with Williams, the most painful being in the Australian Open in January, and after the Russian had squandered a dominant position midway through a fascinating and fluctuating struggle she would surely have feared that history was about to repeat itself.
As she prepared to serve for the match at 5-3 in the second set her mind would have nervously cast itself back to an identical moment in Melbourne that led to things turning embarrassingly sour for the world No 7. The Russian, so often the bridesmaid and rarely the bride in the big tournaments -- this was her 11th grand slam quarter-final and she has gone on to win the title only once -- collapsed dramatically that day as she conceded 10 of the ensuing 11 games to turn a winning position into a badly losing one.
When Williams fought back yesterday from the brink of defeat and won seven of the next eight games to power into a 3-1 lead in the deciding set, it seemed like the American would enhance her impressive personal record against Kuznetsova. But Kuznetsova for once had other ideas. The former US Open champion roared back to take the next three games to turn the tide in her favour and after the despair of seeing two match points slip away in the 10th game by two brave Serena aces, she earned two more in the 12th game.
This time she was not going to be denied and forced a final error from the second seed, which brought the one-hour final set and the 2hr 46min marathon to an unexpected finish. So, Serena, who began the European clay court season telling everybody that she, not Dinara Safina, is the real world No 1, will now have to endure a further period of waiting to regain that top ranking. Kuznetsova will now fancy her chances of securing an all Russian final with Safina on Saturday.She will firstly face the unfancied Australian Samantha Stosur, who is yet to win a singles title on the WTA tour, in the semi-finals.
The doubles specialist employed her physical superiority over Romanian teenager Sorana Cirstea to overpower the player who had outlasted the former world No 1 Jelena Jankovic in the previous round that had gone to 9-7 in the final set. Cirstea, who had never before been beyond the second round of a grand slam, never looked like profiting from that excellent conquest of the Serbian as the 30th-seeded Stosur dominated from start to finish in their 85-minute battle to take it 6-1, 6-3.
A delighted Stosur, 25, said: "Everything is coming together for me at last. This is something that I have been wanting to happen for quite a while. The other semi-final will be between Safina and Dominika Cubulkova, the 20th-seeded Slovakian who came within one point on inflicting a "double bagel" (6-0, 6-0) defeat on Maria Sharapova in the quarter-finals. Cibulkova eventually clinched a 6-0, 6-2 verdict to secure the most impressive victory of her career, albeit one over a player who was feeling her way back into action after a 10-month lay-off and is still some way from regaining the form that took her to the top of the rankings a year ago.
She goes in to her clash with the top seed knowing that she was a more impressive quarter-final winner than Safina, who struggled in the early stages of her match against Victoria Azarenka before taking control in the second and third sets. "I am not really happy with my game," said Safina, who had won her previous four matches for the loss of only five games in total. "But if I don't fight in the quarter-finals of a grand slam then I am not worthy of the No 1 spot.
"But fighting was not enough for me. I hope from the next match that I will play completely different and I'll start to dominate from the first point." firstname.lastname@example.org