NEW YORK—From the American flag frantically flapping atop of Arthur Ashe Stadium to Svetlana Kuznetsova’s bold blasts emanating from across the net, signs of turbulence surrounded Caroline Wozniacki. Blown back off the baseline by the pace and depth of Kuznetsova’s drives, Wozniacki found herself down a set and 4-1, with bleak hopes of a comeback seemingly fading to black beneath the bright white lights.
On this Labor Day evening, Wozniacki went right back to work. Empowered by her quick feet and stubborn self belief, Wozniacki reeled off 12 of the final 14 games in roaring back for a 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-1 triumph that spanned three hours and two minutes.
Wozniacki has been maligned for her inability to impose her game against strong opponents, but the woman nicknamed 'Sunshine' for her positive disposition showed plenty of staying power in grinding down the 15th-seeded Russian, raising her record against Top 20 opponents to 15-3 and advancing to the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the third straight year.
"I felt she had control over the match at some points, but I know in tennis one point can change the match," Wozniacki told ESPN2 afterward. "I’m here where I am because I know how to fight and never give up—that’s one of my strengths. I knew had to step into the court more because she was dictating the game."
Showing the shotmaking skills that carried her to the 2004 U.S. Open title, Kuznetsova ripped a forehand return that rattled Wozniacki’s racquet in the opening set to break for 6-5. A backhand pass and three Kuznetsova errors enabled Wozniacki to break back and force the tiebreaker. When Kuznetsova netted a running forehand, Wozniacki seemed to be in control with a 5-2 overtime lead, but the two-time Open finalist won four consecutive points to earn set point. A slice backhand found the top of the tape on the first set point, but a tight Wozniacki dumped a double fault into net to face a second set point, which Kuznetsova converted after 75 minutes.
Treating Wozniacki’s second serve like loose lint easily brushed away, Kuznetsova won 11 of 14 points played on the blond Dane’s serve in the opener and opened up her shoulders in blasting her way to a 4-1 second-set lead.
Two years ago, Wozniacki was down a set and 1-4 in the fourth round of Flushing Meadows and fought back for a 2-6, 7-6, 7-6 win. Recalling that rally, she crafted another comeback. Kuznetsova clanked a forehand wide as Wozniacki pumped her fist in breaking for 3-4, then withstood a break point to level at 4-4. Though Wozniacki failed to serve out the set at 5-4, she refused to let that misstep sidetrack her and broke for the third straight time before sealing the second set at the 2:21 mark.
"She was a wall, you know. To break a wall, you cannot hit hard," Kuznetsova said. "She never gives the match away."
The two-time Grand Slam champion took a bathroom break after the second set but couldn’t pump life into her legs. Wozniacki won eight straight points to open the decisive set and never looked back, setting up a quarterfinal clash with 10th-seeded Andrea Petkovic, who beat Wozniacki in Miami in March.