May 2, 2014

Sixth Time's a Charm?

The ladies taking the court in Oeiras really shook things up from the start, this week, didn't they?

Third seeded Sam Stosur, one of the most accomplished players in the field, lost her opener to world #165 Timea Bacsinszky, a woman who's spent most of the last three years rehabbing on the ITF Tour, and Lucie Safarova, who so nearly beat eventual Stuttgart titleist Maria Sharapova in that first round, bowed out early in Portugal to Polona Hercog. Other favorites got a little further, but eventually Melbourne Cinderella Genie Bouchard and Roberta Vinci -- whose two match wins this week was her best performance all season -- were also sent packing.

All that leaves two somewhat unlikely players to contest tomorrow's championship match.

Former world #2 Svetlana Kuznetsova has won thirteen trophies in her long career and she'ss laid claim to two Grand Slams. But she's lost the only final she's played since 2010 and has fallen a bit down the rankings since. She did manage to climb back last year after injury, reaching later rounds in Tokyo and Moscow, and last week in Stuttgart survived red-hot Simona Halep in two tight sets. She maintained a low seed in Oerias, but upset Bouchard in the quarters and earlier today barreled through compatriot Elena Vesnina in just over an hour. She hasn't won a title in almost four years, though, so she may be a little rough in tomorrow's match. And that could be just the opening her opponent needs.

Carla Suarez Navarro has had some big wins during her career -- she stunned Venus Williams at the 2009 Australian Open and reached the quarters in New York with a win over Angelique Kerber last year -- but despite five previous final appearances, all on what should be her best surface, she's never won a title. But this time one thing is different -- the Spaniard is just off her career high ranking, and tomorrow will be the first time she faces someone ranked lower than her for the crown. She hasn't dropped a set yet, either, and won her opening two matches in under an hour each. Today's match against Irina-Camelia Begu was her first real test, and though she was pushed to a tiebreak to start, she rolled through the second set decisively to reach her third consecutive final in the former Estoril. It won't be easy of course - CSN's only gotten one win in her previous four meetings with the Russian, and one of Sveta's Majors did, after all, come on clay -- but she's arguably playing the better ball these days, and with all her earlier attempts coming up short, she might finally have the momentum and the motivation to get things done this time around.

It wouldn't be the longest streak of finals with no title, of course -- just last year, after all, Elena Vesnina ended a run of six trophy-less campaigns in Hobart -- but breaking it now, at such a prime juncture in her career, could put Suarez Navarro on a new path. With the French Open around the corner -- an event at which she's only won one match in her entire career -- she'll want to prove she has the goods. A victory tomorrow would only be the first step to bigger and better things, of course, but once she breaks the seal, there's no telling what she could be able to do.

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