From a macro, casual-fan standpoint, it hasn’t been a banner week for the WTA in Indian Wells. For wildly varying reasons, four recent Grand Slam champions—Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova—were missing from the draw. The tour’s No. 1 player, Angelique Kerber, lost early on Stadium 2. And the ATP’s star-heavy Quarter of Death guaranteed that the majority of the buzz and coverage migrated to the men’s side. Now the WTA will conclude with a final between two Russians in their 30s, neither of whom is a household name.
But serious tennis fans won’t be surprised to see Kuznetsova and Vesnina when they turn on their TV sets on Sunday morning. (Yes, morning, at least if you’re on the West Coast; to accommodate U.S. TV, this one starts at an eye-opening 11:00 A.M. local time)
The 31-year-old Kuznetsova’s Indian Summer began last year, when she rejoined the Top 10 for the first time since 2009. Now she’s reached her first Indian Wells final since 2008, by knocking off world No. 3 Karolina Pliskova in two tiebreakers. Kuznetsova, who won two titles and reached the Miami final in 2016, has been working up to big-event run like this.
While Kuznetsova is having a renaissance, Vesnina is in full bloom for the first time at 30. In singles, that is: For years, she’s been the most talented player in every doubles match she’s played. But a run to the Wimbledon semis last summer sent her skyrocketing to a career-high No. 16, and this week she’s proved that she belongs there, with wins over Kerber, Venus Williams and Kristina Mladenovic.
The tennis that Kuznetsova and Vesnina have played in Indian Wells has been as gritty as the courts there. Neither woman belts her opponent off the court, or has any obvious killer weapons. But they do everything well. Vesnina is a talented shot-maker, while Kuznetsova is a world-class athlete who defends as well as she attacks.
While both have been a round for a while, their match-up will feel fresh even to hardcore fans; somehow, after more than a decade on tour together, these two countrywomen have played just twice. Vesnina won in three sets on a hard court in 2009; Kuznetsova won in straight sets on clay in 2014.
Kuznetsova has more big-match experience in singles; she’s won 17 titles to Vesnina’s two. And after a day off, she shouldn’t be tired, the way she was for the Miami final last year, which she lost badly to Azarenka. This match will hopefully be an interesting all-court push and pull; but in a contest of athletes, when push comes to pull, I’ll take Kuznetsova over most opponents. Winner: Kuznetsova
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