Kuznetsova turns on power to sting doubles partner Mauresmo

Svetlana Kuznetsova hesitated to invite Amélie Mauresmo to be her doubles partner this year. The Russian had one major title to her name, an achievement which Mauresmo did not emulate until this year's Australian Open, but while the Frenchwoman had been steadily climbing the world rankings Kuznetsova had struggled to rediscover the form that earned her the 2004 US Open title.

Mauresmo, however, happily took up Kuznetsova's invitation and the strength of their teamwork has been shown by their progress to the doubles semi-finals here.

The only problem for the world No 1 is that her partner appears to be learning too much about her game. Mauresmo had won all four of their previous meetings until Kuznetsova beat her in Dubai last month and last night repeated the feat. Her 6-1, 6-4 win here in the Nasdaq-100 Open semi-finals was her best result since her triumph 18 months ago at Flushing Meadows.

Kuznetsova is a formidable striker of the ball and was given a constant flow of attacking opportunities by a lacklustre Mauresmo, who hit too many half-court balls and served far too short. The Russian hit a total of 33 winners to Mauresmo's 13 and won 62 per cent of the points on the world No 1's second serve.

Mauresmo, who started the day as the only player in either the men's or women's singles not to have dropped a set, was on the back foot from the start, losing the first five games. Kuznetsova closed out the first set with a well-constructed point after two fine backhands into the corner. Mauresmo made a recovery of sorts, holding serve in the second set until a hurried forehand into the net gave Kuznetsova a break to lead 4-3.

The Frenchwoman had her chances to break back immediately, but at 0-30 made three errors before Kuznetsova hit a smart crosscourt forehand winner. The world No 14, who in tomorrow's final will play the winner of last night's second semi-final between Maria Sharapova and Tatiana Golovin, won on her third match point.

In the first of the men's semi-finals today, David Nalbandian, the world No 3, will take on Ivan Ljubicic, who is ranked No 6 but is statistically the second most successful player this year behind Roger Federer. Both men were in fine form in their quarter-finals. Nalbandian crushed Mario Ancic 6-2, 6-2 in less than an hour, while Ljubicic beat the unseeded Agustin Calleri, 7-6, 6-3.

Nalbandian has been troubled by an abdominal injury in recent weeks and showed his ring-rustiness in his opening match here against Paul Goldstein when he made 80 unforced errors and had to save two match points. However, the victory over Ancic followed good wins over two more seeded players in Radek Stepanek and Tomas Berdych.

Calleri could never get the hang of Ljubicic's powerful serve. The tall Croat hit 14 aces, was never taken to break point and won 36 of 37 points on his first serve.

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