An unexpected All-Russian match-up in the form of Svetlana Kuznetsova and Elena Vesnina will take place in the BNP Paribas Open final on Sunday. It’s Kuznetsova’s third appearance in the Indian Wells final, while Vesnina is a rookie at this stage.
(8) Svetlana Kuznetsova (No.8) vs (14) Elena Vesnina (No.15)
Overview: No one would have expected Svetlana Kuznetsova to make the final for the third time in Indian Wells in 2017. Kuznetsova started the season mediocrely, notably a fourth round appearance in the Australian Open and quarterfinals in Brisbane and St.Petersburg. Then she withdrew from the Doha and Dubai tournaments, citing injury. Indian Wells was her first tournament since February, thus no one really thought of her as a contender in the Desert.
Her campaign in Indian Wells didn’t start off perfectly. She navigated through a tough two-setter against Johanna Larsson, then battled past Roberta Vinci in a lopsided score, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1. It was until the fourth round that Kuznetsova’s form started to improve. She trashed Caroline Garcia and countrywoman Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in straights, and in the semifinals against No.3 seed Karolina Pliskova, she ousted her in two tiebreakers to reach the final for a third time. It’s all about the threes for Kuznetsova, as this is the third straight year she has made it into a Premier Mandatory final (she lost both in the previous two years). Will it be third time’s the charm for Kuznetsova?
Kuznetsova’s opponent in the final is fellow Russian, Elena Vesnina. Vesnina had a breakout 2016 and not many were expecting her to reproduce those results in 2017, but she proved the doubters wrong this week. Vesnina had a tougher draw than Kuznetsova, but the former still managed to beat her opponents in pretty convincing fashion. The World No.15 moved past Shelby Rogers in two tight sets, before overcoming dizziness to beat Timea Babos in the next round. She produced an upset in the fourth round, knocking out soon-to-be World No.1 Angelique Kerber, then took out Venus Willliams in the quarters. She had to face an in-form Kristina Mladenovic next, but she used her weapons, forehand and volleys to effect to beat the Frenchwoman in straight sets.
Head to head: The Russians have only met each other twice, once way back in 2009, and the other in 2014 on clay.
Thoughts: Vesnina’s performance this week has been terrific, but I have to go with Kuznetsova. The World No.8 showcased her variety in the semis against Pliskova, notably her forehand and defence were at the best. If Kuznetsova plays like that on Sunday, I don’t think Vesnina stands a chance.
Prediction: Kuznetsova to beat Vesnina in two