Moscow: Stosur d. Kuznetsova

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Crouching in a predatory posture, Samantha Stosur blew on her fingertips and twirled her Babolat racquet while awaiting Svetlana Kuznetsova’s serve. Even when she wasn’t moving, Stosur looked ready to strike and Kuznetsova couldn’t quite keep pace with her Kremlin Cup doubles partner.

In a battle of former Grand Slam champions, a focused Stosur scored a 6-2, 6-4 victory to extend her winning streak to nine matches in reaching into her second straight Moscow final. The seventh-seeded Australian, who has not surrendered a set in this tournament, beat Kuznetsova for the third time in a row this year, denying the Russian’s bid for her 500th career victory.

Both women can dictate on serve when consistently landing their first strike, but Stosur served with more confidence as Kuznetsova struggled to back up her serve. The two-time Grand Slam champion did not hold in the opener, managing to win a meager six of 23 points on her serve. When she’s in the groove and flowing freely, Stosur’s hellacious kick serve can bounce shoulder high and handcuff even experienced opponents. The serve caused complications for Kuznetsova, who sometimes looked a little confused on whether to step into the court and try to take an aggressive return on the rise or drop back behind the baseline to take the ball on the descent.

Fresh off winning the Osaka title, Stosur played with much more clarity when it mattered most, creating court openings with the kicker then slamming her forehand into the corners. The 2011 U.S. Open champion denied eight of 10 break points in the opening set. Kuznetsova served 73 percent in the opener, but could not find Stosur’s weaker backhand wing enough in winning just five of 17 (29 percent) of her first-serve points. Kuznetsova’s two-handed backhand is typically a reliable weapon. She knew she needed to hit that shot convincingly to engage Stosur in backhand exchanges — or play wide to the Aussie’s forehand to stretch her then come back hard to the backhand to force Stosur to hit that shot on the run —but the Russian’s backhand lacked both bite and precision as Stosur kept calm navigating the break point tests in wrapping up the opening set.

While Stosur was empowered, Kuznetsova was erratic. Stosur’s inside-out forehand is a signature shot and she caught Kuznetsova leaning to her left to cover that shot only to fire the forehand down the line in roaring out to a 5-1 second-set lead. When you see Stosur play that serve-forehand combination with such command, you wonder why she’s managed to win just five singles titles in her career (in contrast, the 27-year-old Kuznetsova has claimed 13 career titles), but her nerves, backhand and return can be fickle under pressure. Those elements withstood a test down the stretch as Kuznetsova hung tough, broke for 5-2, then held for 5-3.

Serving at 30-15, Stosur cracked a heavy serve to open the court, but slid a backhand wide, scattered a forehand then dumped a double fault to donate the break. Kuznetsova served to level at 4-5, but came apart, netting a backhand then bungling a smash so badly the ball bounced on her side of the net for 15-40. She saved the first match point but clanked a running forehand wide as Stosur closed the 93-minute match. Stosur, who lost to Caroline Wozniacki in the 2012 Moscow final, will play for her third title of the season when she faces Simona Halep in Sunday’s final. Stosur has won three of their four meetings, but Halep won their most recent encounter, 6-4, 4-6, 6-2, in Cincinnati last August.

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