In a battle between of the game’s brighter young talents and one of the most experienced operators on the WTA Tour, Donna Vekic takes on Svetlana Kuznetsova for the Washington Open title. Vekic has had something of a resurgence this season after a disappointing couple of years and the third title of her career would be the perfect way to cap it off. But Kuznetsova has accomplished almost everything one can and certainly won’t make it easy for Vekic. Who will come out on top?
Vekic and Kuznetsova have met twice so far in their careers in a head-to-head that is tied at one win apiece. Their first match came four years ago in Miami in the second round where the then-18-year-old Vekic delivered an upset win, ousting Kuznetsova in straight sets 7-6 7-5. The Russian had her revenge in 2016 in Tianjin, however, where in the second round she beat Vekic 7-5 6-4 and went on to reach the semifinals (lost to Riske).
Path to the final
Vekic’s Washington campaign began against 19-year-old Caroline Dolehide of the US. Vekic had too much throughout for teenager winning 6-3 6-4, but she was given a rather more searching examination by another 19-year-old, Hungary’s Fanny Stollar. But Vekic eventually triumphed 15-13 in the deciding set tiebreak after saving three match points. She then beat Magda Linette 6-1 7-6 before reaching the final with a 7-5 6-3 win over Zheng Saisai.
Kuznetsova opened her tournament with a dominant 6-2 6-1 win over Kristie Ahn of the US, before delivering a similarly impressive performance to dismiss Ana Bogdan 6-2 6-1. Kuznetsova then raced past French Open quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva to return to the quarterfinals at the tournament she won in 2014. There she faced Germany’s Andrea Petkovic, who came into the match in good form but proved no match for Kuznetsova, who won 6-2 6-2.
How do they match up?
Vekic is an increasingly accomplished baseliner, equipped with powerful groundstrokes and the confidence to hit through opponents. Last month in the first round at Wimbledon, she overwhelmed Sloane Stephens with just such a barrage of accurate and powerful hitting that even the American’s excellent defensive skills could not cope with. Her forehand is her most useful weapon offensively, but it is her backhand that is the most versatile shot she possesses.
Kuznetsova will also likely play primarily from the baseline in this one. Both her forehand and backhand are solid and dependable, but it is her forehand, with its heavy topspin, that will be the biggest danger to Vekic. Kuznetsova is also more comfortable in the forecourt than the Croatian and she would do well to exploit that advantage. The former-US Open and French Open champion has also twice won the Australian Open in doubles, which testifies to the quality of her volleys.
Whilst Vekic has had to battle all the way to the final, particularly against Stollar, Kuznetsova has sailed through the draw with ease, no mean feat considering the quality of opponent she has faced, not least former world #9 Andrea Petkovic. The Russian struggles to find consistency week in, week out on the Tour, which is why she is no longer a member of the top ten. But when she is at her best, as she has been all week, she is almost unstoppable. Kuznetsova in straight sets.