x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Kulikova beats veteran Kuznetsova

The Russian, ranked 99th, books her place in the quarter-final of the Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships.

Regina Kulikova shows her power during her shock win over Svetlana Kuznetsova.
Regina Kulikova shows her power during her shock win over Svetlana Kuznetsova.

DUBAI // Svetlana Kuznetsova once came within two victories of claiming the cherished No 1 position in the WTA rankings yet the Russian has struggled throughout her career to attract the same kind of attention commanded by her various rivals for the top spot.

If there is a queue for Centre Court occupancy at tournaments all around the world, Kuznetsova, winner of two grand slam events, is generally at the back of it as more charismatic characters tend to take precedence. She managed to break into the principal arena yesterday for her first appearance at this year's Barclays Dubai Tennis Championships but will not be seeing any more of the spotlight after a surprising exit at the hands of a lowly-ranked qualifier.

Regina Kulikova, a fellow Russian who has proved already in her brief career that she will stay out all day trading baseline blows if she has to, outlasted Kuznetsova in a marathon encounter under the stamina-sapping desert sun. Standing at an improving 99 in the world before securing her first quarter-final place in a main draw, Kulikova looked as though she had squandered a glorious opportunity to take a rare prize scalp by missing countless opportunities to have won the match in straight sets and then falling 4-1 behind in the decider.

But one quality the 21-year-old does not lack is staying power - she spent a record 4hr 19min losing a first-round Australian Open match last month - and while Kuznetsova appeared to be wilting as the on-court clock ticked towards the three-hour mark yesterday, Kulikova went into overdrive and rattled off five games in a row for a famous victory. The 5-7, 7-6, 6-4 verdict, reached in 3hr 16min (10 of those minutes spent having a heat break) earned Kulikova a last-eight meeting today with Agnieszka Radwanska, the seventh-seeded Pole who turned what had been a tight match against Italy's Flavia Pennetta into a 6-3, 6-0 procession.

"It's good that you told me that," she said, not having looked at the draw sheet before attending a post-match press conference for the first time in her flourishing career. "I don't have any special tactics, but if I play my game aggressively the way I was doing today, fighting, it's OK." This was comfortably Kulikova's best win of her life but curiously she ranks it behind a losing performance at Wimbledon to another of her Russian compatriots Elena Dementieva.

"That was just the second match of my career so that is the best for me," she added. The promising youngster is keen to make up for lost time after suffering from a succession of fitness problems over the last three years. "Now I know that I can play again," she enthused. "I'm healthy, I'm fit, and I can do my best." Victoria Azarenka, the fourth seed, was also in danger of following the top two seeds out of the tournament.

She, too, struggled against a qualifier - Germany's Anna-Lena Groenefeld - before going through 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 to face either Jelena Jankovic or Vera Zvonareva in the quarter-final. The closest match-up of the eight third-round clashes was between China's Li Na and Marion Bartoli, of France, seeded eight and 11 respectively and it was a tussle which was too close to call after they had shared the first two sets.

So it was a surprise to see Na, the recent Australian Open semi-finalist, dominate the deciding set to carve out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-0 passage into an unexpected quarter-final against Israel's Shahar Peer, conqueror of Caroline Wozniacki, the top seed. @Email:wjohnson@thenational.ae