In a battle of the former champions, 16th seed and two-time champion Venus Williams takes on 2004 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova. Williams had an excellent season last year, reaching two Grand Slam finals as well as the last four in New York, but that is beginning to look like it was an Indian summer for her after a difficult year. Kuznetsova, meanwhile, may also be nearing the end of her career but has shown her quality lately with some good results. Who will come out on top?
Williams and Kuznetsova have met on ten occasions in a head-to-head that is tied at five wins apiece. Their first clash came 15 years ago in the first round at the Australian Open, with Williams a comfortable 6-4 6-2 victor. But a year later when their rivalry was renewed it was Kuznetsova that came out on top, winning 6-2 6-3 in Dubai. Williams then won in the final in Warsaw later that year before Kuznetsova won a rematch in Warsaw two years later in the quarterfinals.
They met for a third time in Warsaw in 2007 with Kuznetsova winning, but Williams then won that same year at Wimbledon in the quarterfinals. Kuznetsova then won in the Miami quarterfinals in 2008 in straight sets, but a year later at the Tour Finals, Williams battled to a 6-2 6-7 6-4 victory. They did not meet again for another seven years when they played in Wuhan where Kuznetsova won 6-2 6-2. But in 2017 in Miami Williams was a 6-3 7-6 victor.
Last time out
After a frustrating loss to Kiki Bertens in the third round at Wimbledon, Williams made her competitive return in San Jose, beating Heather Watson before losing to Maria Sakkari in quarterfinal action. She followed that with victories over Caroline Dolehide and Sorana Cirstea in Montreal, before losing in straight sets in the third round to Simona Halep. She was then due to face her San Jose conqueror Sakkari again in Cincinnati, but withdrew before the tournament began.
Kuznetsova’s Wimbledon ended in the disappointment of a first-round loss to 23rd seed Barbora Strycova. But she put that behind her in Washington, where she won the title in 2014. She repeated the feat, defeating eighth seed Yulia Putintseva and former world #9 Andrea Petkovic to reach the final where she beat Donna Vekic in three. In Cincinnati she battled past Stefanie Voegele in the first round but lost 6-7 6-4 4-6 to fifth seed Elina Svitolina in the second round.
How do they match up?
This should be an entertaining baseline battle between two women equipped with plenty of power from the back of the court. Williams’ clean and powerful hitting off both wings has long served her in good stead, but one feels a good serving day will be important for her. Kuznetsova has the quality to live with Williams in the baseline exchanges, and with her impressive foot speed will be hard to hit through. But when Williams’ serve gets going, she can be hard to stop.
This is an extremely tricky first-round draw for Williams. Last year, she probably would have gone into the contest feeling good about her chances. But this year, it is hard to see her having maintained that faith. There has been no disguising her recent struggles, whilst Kuznetsova showed the considerable talent that remains to her in New York. She has the mindset of a champion and will not freeze under the lights. Kuznetsova to pull off the upset win in three.