Kuznetsova keeps eyes on the prize

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The Independent Online

Svetlana Kuznetsova has learned how to handle Jelena Jankovic. "It's better not to look at her," the Russian said after a hard-earned victory yesterday over the Serb at the Barclays Dubai Championships.

"Somehow she looks as though she's weak, but then she gets all the balls back. You never know with her. I look at her and I think: 'She's starting to struggle.' Then it's boom, boom! I've learned not to look at her and just focus on myself."

On this occasion, however, appearances would not have been deceptive. Jankovic, a long way short of the peak condition that made her such a formidable competitor last year, was exhausted by the end of the second set and Kuznetsova won their semi-final 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 after two hours and 42 minutes under the blazing desert sun.

In an all-Russian final today the world No 3 will play Elena Dementieva, the No 11, who ended Francesca Schiavone's fine run with a 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 victory. The Italian faded in the final set after suffering an injury to her right leg.

Stamina won the day for Kuznetsova in a contest that had more lows than highs as both players struggled to find their rhythm. There were 13 breaks of serve and little subtlety on either side of the net, with hardly a drop shot and only the occasional volley, struck without conviction.

Having had her pre-season physical training cut short after sinus surgery, Jankovic is struggling to find the fitness that enabled her to outlast so many opponents during a 2007 campaign that brought four titles and saw the 23-year-old climb nine places to finish the year at No 3 in the world rankings.

"I can play for two sets, but when you come up against an opponent who's as strong physically as Svetlana it's difficult," she said. "Last year I could be on court for maybe four hours without a problem. Now as soon as I reach two hours I'm dying on the court."