WTA Finals: Kuznetsova first player to clinch semi-finals spot

Svetlana Kuznetsova celebrates after defeating Karolina Pliskova during their singles round robin match of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals on Oct 26, 2016.
Svetlana Kuznetsova celebrates after defeating Karolina Pliskova during their singles round robin match of the BNP Paribas WTA Finals on Oct 26, 2016. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Even though she is the last player to qualify and arrive at the WTA Finals Singapore, Svetlana Kuznetsova has become the first player to book her spot in the semi-finals on Wednesday (Oct 26)

The Russian advances into the last four of the season-ending tournament for the first time in seven appearances. At 31, she is the oldest player in the eight-player singles field, and qualified for the event after winning the Kremlin Cup in Moscow last Saturday (Oct 22), just a day before the tournament began.

In her second round-robin group match at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Wednesday, Kuznetsova beat Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (8-6).

And her passage to the semi-finals was sealed just before midnight, after defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland beat last year's semi-finalist Garbine Muguruza 7-6 (7-1), 6-3 in the second White Group match.

Kuznetsova's victory also puts her one match shy of 600 career wins, a milestone that has been reached by just four active players (Serena Williams, Venus Williams, Jelena Jankovic and Maria Sharapova).

The resurgent Russian, a two-time Grand Slam winner who is appearing in her first WTA Finals since 2009, needed four match points to close out a tight contest between two players who each had to come from behind in the third set - even saving a match point - to win their opening group matches on Monday (Oct 24).

When the match went down to the wire on a tie-break, the odds favoured Kuznetsova, who has a WTA Tour-leading 21 three-set match wins of this season.

And she found a way to defuse Pliskova's powerful serve, allowing the Czech to hit only three aces past her throughout the 2hr 17min encounter. Pliskova, 24, has struck a WTA Tour-leading 525 aces this season, more than 200 more than second-placed Serena Williams (324).

Kuznetsova looked on course to register her 45th victory of this year when she raced out to a 4-1 lead in the third set. But just like how Pliskova clawed back from 0-4 down in the third set against Muguruza on Monday, the Czech roared back and broke Kuznetsova to serve for the match at 6-5.

The match took another late twist as Kuznetsova broke a nervous Pliskova to force a tie-break, which she eventually won 8-6.

The winner of the match between Radwanska or Pliskova on Friday will join Kuznetsova in the semi-finals. Muguruza, the French Open champion, cannot progress to the last four.