Williams return halted by powerful Kuznetsova

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The Independent Online

Success always came in cycles in Svetlana Kuznetsova's household in St Petersburg. Her father, Alexandr, coached five Olympic and world cycling champions and also trained her mother, Galina Tsareva, a six-times cycling world champion and the holder of 20 world records, and her brother, Nikolai, a silver medallist at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Now the 18-year-old Svetlana is the family's dream pedlar on the tennis circuit, helped by the experience of playing doubles with Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and Martina Navratilova, plus being coached in Spain by Emilio Sanchez and Angel Gimenez.

Although Kuznetsova's pounding victory here yesterday against Venus Williams, 6-1, 6-3, in the quarter-finals of the Dubai Women's Open underlined the American's lack of match fitness, the Russian's power and athleticism suggested that she will soon become a top-10 player.

Williams, who began her latest comeback from injury with a straight-sets win on Wednesday against Alicia Molik, of Australia, discovered she still did not have the mobility to resist the 29th-ranked Kuznetsova's deep ground strokes to the corners of the court.

"My leg is better, but I'm not sure how much the anti-inflammatories are masking the problem," Williams said. "It's difficult to play a tournament of this calibre without the preparation. I'm going home to get the rest and the practice I need. My next tournament will be the Nasdaq [in Key Biscayne, Florida, on 22 March]."

Williams, who defeated Kuznetsova in straight sets in their only previous match, in the first round at the 2003 Australian Open, acknowledged that the Russian is "a good player who played well and has come a long way since we last played". But she added: "People know how I can play in normal circumstances. If you're going to get me, now's the time. Hopefully at the Nasdaq that time will be gone."

In the opening game yesterday, Kuznetsova seemed too nervous to make an impact and a double-fault gave Williams the chance to break. Having recovered the break in the next game, however, Kuznetsova found a confident rhythm and put Williams, the former world No 1, on the defensive.

After a double-fault to go 3-1 down, Williams lost six of the next seven and did not show signs of a recovery until the crowd voiced support for her when she was 3-0 down in the second set. Williams then held to love and broke to reduce the deficit.

Although Kuznetsova broke again for 4-2, Williams returned well enough to win the next four points. Serving at 4-3, Williams failed to nail either of two game points to level the set and then narrowly missed a forehand when she was a break point down. Kuznetsova served the match out after 56 minutes.

"I know Venus is not on the top of her level now," Kuznetsova said, "but I was able to stay relaxed and move her around so she could not play her shots."

Kuznetsova will today play the fifth-seeded Ai Sugiyama for a place in tomorrow's final. The Japanese beat Eleni Daniilidou, of Greece, 6-1, 6-3.

In the other semi-final, Justine Henin-Hardenne, of Belgium, the world No 1 and the defending champion, plays Meghann Shaughnessy, of the United States, who defeated Anastasia Myskina, the Russian fourth seed, 7-6, 4-6, 6-3.

Henin-Hardenne had the next best thing to a walkover, 6-1, 6-0, against Conchita Martinez, of Spain, the former Wimbledon champion, in their quarter-final. Martinez, who managed to win the opening game, had no further success and twice received treatment for a neck injury.

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