Wozniacki battles back to beat Kuznetsova
NEW YORK -- Caroline Wozniacki was a question mark in mid-August, when she suffered back-to-back opening-round losses in Toronto and Cincinnati, raising doubts about her game and readiness for a run at a first-ever Grand Slam title. But the Danish 21-year-old seemingly righted herself, winning at New Haven for the fourth straight time the week before the U.S. Open and then cruising easily through the first three rounds here.
So her form was not in doubt. The other perennially nagging question hanging over Wozniacki's head was the absence of a Grand Slam title to match her No. 1 ranking.
This tournament provided her with the last chance of the year to validate the ranking she has held for 47 weeks. Wozniacki was nearly bounced from the Open by No. 15 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova Monday night amid the swirling winds at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Wozniacki, the top seed, wobbled in the first set, rallied from 1-4 down in the second and dominated the third to put away Kuznetsova 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-1 and move into a quarterfinal match with No. 10 seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany.
Kuznetsova, the 2004 U.S. Open champion, played three-plus hours of alternately inspiring or maddening tennis. The Russian veteran dictated play at times, hitting blistering forehand after blistering forehand, but tightened up once she had the lead in the second set, and wound up with 78 unforced errors on the match. Wozniacki made only one-third as many errors, 26, and showed mettle befitting of her ranking, winning 12 of the last 14 games.
"Well, to be honest, I actually thought about a match we played two years ago," Wozniacki said afterward when asked how she'd summoned her comeback. "I was down 4-1 in the second set as well. I said, 'I can do this.' "
And she did.
Wozniacki, a finalist at the 2009 U.S. Open, avoided becoming the latest seed to be upset at the Open, which has seen No. 3 Maria Sharapova, No. 4 Victoria Azarenka, No. 5 seed and reigning Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, No. 6 and reigning French Open champion Li Na, No. 7 Francesca Schiavone and No. 8 Marion Bartoli all bounced before the quarterfinals.
Wozniacki nearly joined them.
Going into the match, Wozniacki had not surrendered a set at Flushing Meadows in the first three rounds, losing only 12 games in three matches to advance to the round of 16. But whatever confidence gained was somehow absent on center court. Wozniacki's serve was broken in the first game of the first set. It was a harbinger, even though Kuznetsova struggled on serve as well.
It was a trying first set for both players. Wozniacki and Kuznetsova had their serves broken three times apiece, the set going to a tiebreaker. Wozniacki jumped to a 5-2 lead in the tiebreaker, but squandered it and gave Kuznetsova a set point by double-faulting at 6-6. Wozniacki then returned Kuznetsova's serve long to lose her first set of the tournament. Kuznetsova committed 31 unforced errors in the first set but still won it.
Kuznetsova jumped on Wozniacki's serve again in the second set, breaking her in the second game to take a 2-0 lead when a Wozniacki forehand sailed wide at 30-40.
Kuznetsova had a 4-1 lead before Wozniacki started her monumental comeback. The Dane broke Kuznetsova's serve twice to take a 5-4 lead and serve for the set. Kuznetsova broke back to tie it at 5-5, but Wozniacki broke again to take a 6-5 lead, and then came up with a precarious hold to even the match at a set all.
Wozniacki started strong in the third set, breaking Kuznetsova in the opening game and holding for an early 2-0 lead. Wozniacki didn't waver again. She broke Kuznetsova once more for a 4-1 lead, then held serve at love to make it 5-1. One last time, Wozniacki broke Kuznetsova's serve for the match.
It was the kind of finish that builds champions. We'll see what it makes of Wozniacki.