Former US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova admitted she was surprised to be in the semifinals of the French Open after she ousted compatriot Dinara Safina 7-6 (7/5), 6-0 on Tuesday.
The eighth-seeded Russian will face Czech teenager Nicole Vaidisova in the last four after the 16th seed beat Wimbledon champion Venus Williams 6-7 (5/7), 6-1, 6-3.
Kuznetsova produced a stirring comeback after trailing 1-5 in the opening set to win 13 of the last 14 games against a brittle 14th-seeded opponent who crumbled embarrassingly.
It is already Kuznetsova’s best performance in Paris.
”I always thought I could play well on clay but I have never done well on the surface,” she admitted.
”So it was a little surprising, but now I know I can make it and I’m playing pretty well.”
Safina’s collapse was so complete that she managed only three points in the second set, having won 50 in the first.
In truth it was a match devoid of too much quality as first Kuznetsova struggled to find the court and then Safina followed suit in even more spectacular fashion.
The first set was one of changing fortunes as the eighth seed lost her first three service games to trail 1-5 as she hit a string of wild forehands that sailed well over the baseline.
”I guess it was nerves. I just couldn’t move,” explained Kuznetsova. ”Maybe it looked like I was not awake.
”I just felt I wanted it so badly and I just had to breathe between the points and somehow let it go and start playing again. It was very tough.”
She started to turn it around when Safina, who had already been struggling with her backhand, took over the torch of wayward groundstrokes as Kuznetsova battled back to force the tie-break.
Three times Safina served for the set, but despite earning several set points on her countrywoman’s serve, she never managed one on her own.
By the end of the first set, and after eight breaks of serve, Kuznetsova had converted an impressive four from five opportunities to break while Safina had been successful on only a third of her chances.
The decisive swing seemed to come at 4-1 to Kuznetsova in the tie-break.
Safina plopped an easy smash into the net and although Kuznetsova seemed reluctant to finish her off, she did eventually take the set 7/5 on the breaker.
There had been a whopping 54 unforced errors in that set with Kuznetsova narrowly edging the stats 28-26, but from then on it was plain sailing for the 2004 US Open champion.
Kuznetsova was far the more athletic around the court and gained a measure of success with her drop shots that the labouring Safina could rarely reach.
She also hit a sublime jumping backhand drive that had the crowd rupturing into applause.
Looking forward to her clash with Vaidisova, the Russian said: ”I’m just going to give my best. There is no pressure out there now. I already have my pressure behind me.” — AFP