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Kuznetsova sets up clash with Belarus sensation

Saturday, May 31, 2008
By Matt Cronin

Svetlana Kuznetsova is looking very much the finalist-to-be after she thrashed her Russian compatriot Nadia Petrova 6-2, 6-1 in the third round.

Kuznetsova, the 2006 finalist, will meet red hot Belarusian teen Victoria Azarenka, who continued her amazing run by blitzing Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 6-1.

Another Russian, No13 seed Dinara Safina, continued her stellar play, winning her eighth straight match on tour by overpowering Jie Zheng 6-2, 7-5.

While the clash between Kuznetsova and Petrova was expected to be a barnburner, in the end it was not even close as Petrova is nowhere near her stellar 2006 form and Kuznetsova was relentless and accurate from inside the baseline.

While Petrova's face couldn't mask her frustration, Kuznetsova was cool and lethal, dictating play with her huge inside out forehand and playing consistent off her backhand side.

“I play really consistent,” said Kuznetsova, who chanced her serve two months ago. “I was trying not to do unforced errors in the first two, three shots. It's important for me. And not to rush too much. I was playing so high on the net, lots of spin. I was moving pretty well. Definitely I think I have a chance. Why not? I think there is a few players who have a really shot to win it, and I hope one of them is me.”

The 18-year-old Azarenka was just as impressive, scorching balls off the ground and simply blowing the athletic Italian off the court. Amazingly, the No16 seed has only lost six games in three matches.

“The first match was good, but it was a little bit different because it was a first match and supposed to play on Monday; I played on Wednesday,” Azarenka said. “I was a little bit nervous, but then last two matches, I was in the zone.”

The former ITF junior standout is tall, powerful and has clean strokes. She's still a work in progress but after winter knee surgery, has picked up her stride, reaching the final of Prague and the semis of Berlin.

“I improved a lot my serve, and this year I improved a lot my forehand, which was my weak shot,” she said. “Now it's like my weapon, which helps me a lot. I worked a lot on coming in and the volleys. That's what helps me, not to play the match at the baseline. I just go and try to finish the point earlier.”

A former ball girl for 1988 Roland Garros finalist Natasha Zvereva, she is looking forward to playing Kuznetsova, whom she lost to at the 2007 US Open.

“I don't think now I'm going to have any nerves because I experienced a lot of matches, big stadiums, good players,” said Azarenka. “I just look at it very different now than I used to before.”

Safina, who reached the quarterfinals here in 2006, is experiencing one of the best surges of her career. Never one of the most mentally strong players on tour, the Berlin titlist is playing headier tennis and amazingly, made fewer unforced errors than the scrappy Zheng, registering 23 to 35 from her foe.

She will face the winner of the match between top seed Maria Sharapova and Italian Karin Knapp.

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