Kuznetsova on her love affair with Roland Garros and the complexity of being versatile

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  • Survivor: Svetlana Kuznetsova.

    For Svetlana Kuznetsova, many of her blessings can also be curses.

    The Russian No8 seed has a special connection with Roland Garros. It is by far her best Grand Slam in terms of winning record and consistent results which consequently means it’s a place where she expects more of herself.

    On her 14 previous French Open appearances, Kuznetsova lost in the first week only three times. She won the title here in 2009, was runner-up in 2006, reached one more semi-final and four more quarter-finals.

    Playing the tournament for a 15th consecutive year, Kuznetsova is into the fourth round in Paris, where she takes on either Caroline Wozniacki or Catherine “Cici” Bellis on Sunday.

    • READ this insightful interview with Kuznetsova’s coach Carlos Martinez

    • Catch up on Friday’s action with Reem Abulleil’s day 6 diary

    • READ Timea Bacsinszky’s eloquent tribute to Ons Jabeur

    She tells us her love affair with Roland Garros comes at a price sometimes.

    “Probably this is my biggest trouble, that it is too special for me and all matches just come in emotional, emotional, and hopefully next match won’t be so emotional,” Kuznetsova said after her hard-fought 7-6(5), 4-6, 7-5 win over Zhang Shuai.

    “I’m praying every day just to go and play my game and just leave emotions in the basket, but you see, I wouldn’t be me.

    “We say in Russia, this is my cross I have to carry along my days and this is how I am, and whoever loves it and is ready to be with me, they’re more than welcome, whoever doesn’t, I don’t care, they’re not worth it.”

    Kuznetsova has found a new lightness to her life on tour in recent years. She’s been able to play freely more frequently and has been focusing on enjoying her time on the court more than anything else. But in Paris, summoning that unburdened feeling has been hard.

    “Before I always wanted to win, win. Now I think I should let it go, I won it already, just have fun, enjoy and this is what always I try to do. And everywhere I do it, except Paris, and here is like… it’s just horrible,” she confessed.

    “I was looking at my coach I said ‘I’m just miserable today, I just cannot put the ball in’. I’m like playing my favourite tournament and I can’t do like 60 per cent of my game, it’s really frustrating.

    “In the end I made my opponent play great, she was playing amazing in the end and going for her shots and then I had to pull the trigger somehow from a very difficult (position), the water was above.”

    Kuznetsova admits that she’s been dealing with some personal issues that have been a distraction during her first week in Paris, but wouldn’t elaborate on what those problems may be.

    “Negative, personal, everything, but anyway I’m over it and I’m just getting stronger and stronger,” is all she would say.

    After getting through a tight two-setter against Christina McHale in her first round, Kuznetsova fought through two tough three-setters against Oceane Dodin and Zhang Shuai on her way to the second week.

    She remains a strong contender for the title among a very open women’s field this fortnight.

    Her versatility allows her to be a real threat, especially on this surface, but that two can be a double-edged sword.

    “I listened to an interview of Andre Agassi talking about Novak. It’s very nice how he put it. He said ‘if I had as much potential as Novak Djokovic has, I wouldn’t sleep at night’. Sometimes when I have my forehand or backhand or whatever shot, I have so many options, I wish to have one or two and that’s it,” said Kuznetsova when asked if she ever felt her versatility was a burden.

    “I’m creative, I play from my heart, I play from emotions and that’s what makes me unstable. It’s true, I have bad days, bad mood, it is what it is, this is how I am and I have to accept it. I’m happy with whatever I have, I just have to accept that some days I can be very good and some days I feel pretty bad, like today some points.”

    Kuznetsova’s coach, Carlos Martinez, told Sport360 in an interview last month that “she’s 30 but she looks like she’s 19. You can watch how she’s running on the court, how she fights, she’s like a warrior.”

    Indeed, talking to Kuznetsova nowadays, you wouldn’t feel that she’s been a pro 17 years ago. Her passion for the game is keeping her young.

    “The age for me, it’s a number. It’s a basic quote which everybody says, I don’t want to be a smartass right here talking to you guys,” she said with a smile. “I feel blessed, I’m playing the game I love, I’m doing what I love and everyday I’m on the court – and some days like today I was warming up and I was thinking ‘oh my God, I will miss this feeling, I’ll miss hitting the ball clean, I’ll miss moving’ you know because this is my sport, I really enjoy doing that.

    Kuznetsova after beating Zhang Shuai on Friday.

    Kuznetsova after beating Zhang Shuai on Friday.

    “It’s my passion, so I don’t know what’s my age. Age I think is just a number which we count, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is you do your best everyday and you enjoy what you’re doing. I just feel good.”

    Kuznetsova has been names a top contender here in Paris by a few of her rivals as well as several pundits. Her experience, good form, and tough game on clay make her stand out and her coach Martinez says the Russian believes she can cause some serious damage here, even if she never vocalizes that thought.

    Players always say it doesn’t matter to them who is a favourite or who is not, but Kuznetsova confessed to otherwise.

    “I think the players do care,” said the St. Petersburg native. “They would say they don’t, because they don’t want to have that pressure – plus talk is cheap. Yeah everybody talks, talks, ‘oh you’re favourite and bla bla bla’… If Maria (Sharapova) or Serena (Williams) would be in the draw, they would be favourites and I would have less pressure.

    “Now everybody tells me – my friends are telling me ‘we’re going to be there second week’ and I’m like ‘woah woah woah, just stop right there, I’m in second round’,” she adds with a laugh.

    “People don’t get it, each round is like a fight and you might not go to the third round. Here everybody plays their best game and you can lose.

    “It’s my job to fight and do that, and I have to be professional and leave the talk out. Respect? Yes, respect I feel more respect. But because I’m top 10, people are giving me some more attention.

    “When I was 20 (in the world) I was not any favourite and I don’t see a difference. I still feel I can I have a good run, doesn’t matter what my ranking is.

    “My run depends on many circumstances, as all the other players, depends on the draw, on the day how you feel, and on other opponents – it’s many things have to go in in order to do great in a Grand Slam. That’s very difficult. For me, from one match to third match it’s like one month has passed. Because you go through so many things and you’re still managing to do that, so it takes also a lot of emotions.”