It’s official! Svetlana Kuznetsova is back, reaching her first Australian Open quarter-final since 2009 and continuing a trend of reaching the final eight Down Under every four years, after appearances in 2005 and 2009.
Kuznetsova has endured a tough past eight months since upsetting Agnieszka Radwanska at Roland Garros last year. She did not win another match for the rest of 2012 and ended it on crutches, having suffered a knee injury which ruled her out of all post-Wimbledon events until this year’s Sydney International.
Now ranked world No. 75, Kuznetsova is definitely back on the rise. She’s enjoyed a run of six wins out of her last seven matches and has just recorded an impressive three-set victory over former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki, who has now gone four consecutive Grand Slam tournaments without reaching the quarter-finals (five without reaching the semi-finals).
I’ve always been a fan of Kuznetsova since she won the 2004 US Open. Seeing her not play for a very long time has been a painful experience, but now she has announced her comeback in emphatic style.
She has now emulated what Maria Sharapova did in 2009, reaching the quarter-finals in her first tournament back from injury. In Sharapova’s case, she reached the 2009 French Open quarter-finals after being sidelined from the sport for ten months following a long lasting shoulder injury.
We have seen what Sharapova has done since: complete the career Grand Slam, regain the world No. 1 ranking and win an Olympic Silver Medal. Additionally, she has started to perform again at Grand Slam tournaments.
Though it’s unlikely Kuznetsova will challenge for another Grand Slam title in the near future, she can now target a return to the WTA’s top 20 as her short-term goal. Who would have expected that Kuznetsova would be back in a Grand Slam quarter-final after coming back from a long-term injury?
But her next assignment is tough. She faces defending champion and world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the final eight stage, but Kuznetsova enjoys a 4-3 head-to-head advantage all-time and 2-0 in Grand Slam matches.
Kuznetsova may still have nightmares from the 2009 quarter-finals, when she led Serena Williams by a set and had a chance to serve out the match at 5-4 in the second set before the roof closed in on her bid and Williams went on to win the match (and the tournament).
If Kuznetsova can defeat Azarenka on Wednesday, then expect her to be one of the great fairytale stories of 2013 so far.
Fairytales have happened in Grand Slam tennis before, as far as the women are concerned.
Serena Williams won the 2007 Australian Open ranked world No. 81 and having not played a competitive match since the previous year’s US Open.
More to the point, she annihilated the top seed Maria Sharapova in the final, 6-1, 6-2. Venus Williams won Wimbledon the same year seeded 23rd. Kim Clijsters won the 2009 US Open in just her third tournament back on the WTA Tour since starting a family.
Justine Henin came very close at the 2010 Australian Open, losing the final to Serena Williams in three sets.
If those four could do it, maybe so too can Svetlana Kuznetsova. She’s in prime position to do so.