INDIAN WELLS, US: Svetlana Kuznetsova toppled world number three Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) on Friday (Saturday in Manila) to book an all-Russian Indian Wells final against Elena Vesnina.
Vesnina powered past France’s Kristina Mladenovic 6-3, 6-4, continuing a sparkling campaign that has seen her shock German’s soon-to-be world number one Angelique Kerber in the fourth round and seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams in the quarterfinals.
It’s a sharp turnaround from Vesnina’s first-round ouster in qualifying here last year, and marks her first trip to a final of one of the WTA’s elite Premier Mandatory events.
World number eight Kuznetsova is back in the Indian Wells final for the first time since back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2007 and 2008.
She withstood 10 aces from Pliskova, who has already won titles at Brisbane and Doha this year.
“I tried my best to fight every point,” said the 31-year-old Kuznetsova, owner of two Grand slam singles titles who enjoyed a resurgence in 2016, winning two titles as she returned to the top 10 in the world for the first time since 2010. “Karolina is one of the best players this year.”
After falling behind 5-3, the Czech made Kuznetsova work to close out the opening set, saving a set point in the ninth game and four more in the tiebreaker after Kuznetsova seized a 6-2 lead in the decider.
A double fault left Kuznetsova with one more chance at 6-5, and she grabbed it with a forehand passing shot.
After an exchange of breaks in the second they went to the tiebreaker, where Kuznetsova again took a 6-2 lead and the increasingly frustrated Pliskova surrendered with a string of errors.
Vesnina, a Wimbledon semifinalist last year who has reached a career high of 15th in the world at the age of 30, said important doubles wins — including a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics — had helped her big-match composure.
“It’s not easy to hold your nerve,” she said. “But I’m really happy the way I handled it. I was very focused. I was not thinking about the final. I was just thinking particularly about every single game, every single shot.”