Persistence the Key in Cincinnati Day Session

MASON, OHIO – AUGUST 17: Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia celebrates a point against Ashleigh Barty of Australia during Day 8 of the Western and Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 17, 2019 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

It’s been over a decade since Svetlana Kuznetsova last won a major — the 2009 French Open, which was a bit of a surprise, and yet she finds herself in the final of the 2019 Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati after a clean match against world number one and current Roland Garros champion, Ash Barty, winning 6-2, 6-4. More striking than Kuznetsova’s clean dismantling of Barty was the controlled power of her shots and the clarity of her game plan. That isn’t to say that Barty was playing her best, but Kuznetsova managed a consistency today that has not always been available to her in recent years.

Kuznetsova first came to my attention as a young player who played doubles alongside Martina Navratilova in the early 2000s. In many ways, the bulk of Kuznetsova’s career has been defined by rivalries with players who are no longer on the scene: Justin Henin, who defeated Kuznetsova in two Slam finals, Ana Ivanovic and Aga Radwanska. While Kuznetsova has two singles Slam titles to her credit — in addition to her Roland Garros trophy, she won the 2004 U.S. Open against — yes — another now retired player, Elena Dementieva.

Perhaps more than any other player on the tour, Kuznetsova exemplifies the axiom that anything can happen. Despite being a decade removed from her last Slam, and with few titles in the interim, she has managed to compete effectively without losing heart — not an easy feat, but a necessary one in a sport where only one player in a draw leaves without losing. And, today, that dedication was rewarded. Tomorrow’s final will present a real opportunity, with either Madison Keys or Sofia Kenin as an opponent. Kuznetsova easily has more big match experience than either, and is moving and striking the ball well, so has a real chance for another signature career moment.

MASON, OHIO – AUGUST 17: David Goffin of Belgium returns a shot to Richard Gasquet of France during Day 8 of the Western and Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center on August 17, 2019 in Mason, Ohio. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Between early losses and withdrawals, the men’s draw in Cincinnati is short a few of its expected stars. Given the dominance of the Big Three, it’s been a tough task for many of the top ten or top twenty players on the ATP tour to make inroads at regular tour events, much less in Slams. But, today, tour veterans Richard Gasquet and David Goffin squared off under cloudy skies in Cincinnati. Gasquet, loved for his backhand and his skill with the racquet grip , has often been cannon fodder for the Big Three at this stage in tournaments. Goffin, while younger than Gasquet, has met a similar fate competitively, due to the longevity of the Big Three, recently falling in straight sets to Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon earlier this year.

Needless to say, the chance to play in a Masters 1000 final is a rare one for both Gasquet and Goffin. Gasquet last reached a Masters 1000 semifinal in 2013 in Miami (where he lost to Andy Murray), whereas this was Goffin’s fourth career Masters 1000 semifinal, and a repeat of his semifinal run a year ago in Cincinnati. While there was some anticipation that Gasquet’s shotmaking might make more inroads against the lesser powered game of Goffin than it does against heavier hitters on the tour, Goffin’s consistency proved to be too much for the 33 year old Frenchman. Goffin was able to come away with a rather routine 6-3, 6-4 win.

This is easily Goffin’s biggest tournament run since he defeated Roger Federer en route to the 2017 ATP Tour finals, where he lost to Grigor Dimitrov. He would be well advised to savor today’s victory, as tomorrow’s final will pit him against either overwhelming favorite Novak Djokovic, or recently streaking Daniil Medvedev. Goffin’s run speaks to his consistency and commitment to persevere in a sport where opportunities are few and far between — but, his run in Cincinnati shows that, if you stick around long enough, good things can happen.