Defending champion Venus Williams eyes a return to the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open quarterfinals. But Svetlana Kuznetsova will be tough. The face off at 2pm local time (7am BST.)
It was the toughest of blows, and it only got harsher. Karolina Pliskova was playing out of her mind, producing flat, powerful shots and shattering serves that would take her all the way to the US Open final.
And yet it was a fourth round match that Venus Williams could have won. The 36-year-old was finding her major stage fire once again, having defied the odds to reach the Wimbledon semifinals. After sailing through the first set against former world no. 7 Pliskova in Flushing Meadows, and reaching match point at 5-4 in the third set, it seemed that the American would walk away with a magnanimous triumph.
But no. In one of the finest quality WTA battles of the season, Pliskova ousted Venus in a final set tiebreak. To rub salt into the American's wounds, the no. 10 seed's opponent in the quarterfinals was inexperienced teenager Ana Konjuh – who played a match so tightened by nerves that Williams would surely have come through. But the worst blow was surely in the semifinals. Venus was sat courtside, and watched on helplessly as Karolina Pliskova – the woman she could have stopped – took down her sister Serena 6-2 7-6(5).
Nevertheless, Venus Williams is moving on. It is something she does quite beautifully, however short or long a time it takes to start stringing the wins together again. That is why she has not once considered retirement, throughout all these years of critical onlookers telling her to give up. Venus is determined. Venus is serene.
Venus is also the defending champion in Wuhan – which was one of two big titles that the current world no. 7 got her hands on last season. With a good few points to defend at the back end of the year, and a legitimate shot at qualifying for Singapore, the elder Williams sister has little margin for error.
And she has responded to that pressure admirably. After a first round bye in China, Venus was faced with feisty Kazakh Yulia Putintseva – a pocket rocket who has been coming into her own this season. In fact, the rising star had beaten Venus already this season, and came close to upsetting Serena at the French Open. But she was no match for the more powerful, more precise defending champion away from clay-courts. A 6-3 6-2 victory went Venus' way in just one hour and 10 minutes - even with the statistics underwhelming from the Williams side of the net. She landed just 52 percent of first serves, and saved two of the five break points she faced.
Yet the American can concentrate on the fact that she produced a fairly straightforward win, even when not at 100 percent of her abilities. She will now look to sharpen her game against no. 9 seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova – who has beaten the her forthcoming opponent four times previously.
It has been quite the resurgent season for Russia's Kuznetsova, two times a Grand Slam champion in years gone by. Beginning the season ranked world no. 25, she stormed to Premier Sydney triumph in just her second event of the year. And while the highlights of her Grand Slam campaigns have been two fourth rounds in Paris and Wimbledon, the 31-year-old has put in some stellar showings elsewhere. A run to the Miami Open final featured a shock defeat of world no. 1 Serena, while quarterfinal showings in Montreal and Cincinnati highlighted her American hard-court swing. In Wuhan, Kuznetsova is yet to drop a set. Belinda Bencic retired down 6-3 3-4 against the world no. 10, with Madison Brengle hardly lasting longer. The no. 9 seed went through to round three in little more than one hour, landing 69 percent of first serves - and winning 79 percent of those points.
While Venus and Kuznetsova are tied at four-all in their rivalry, it has been some time since they last faced off. Actually, that's an understatement: It has been seven years. Both women were playing some of their all-time best tennis in 2009, with their latest meeting coming at the WTA Finals of that year. The more accomplished player – Venus – emerged a 6-2 7-6(3) victor from that clash, but this match-up has proved unpredictable in the past. While Venus Williams has won all four of her triumphs in straight sets, only once has Kuznetsova been pushed beyond two sets during her own victories. They have played four times on hard-courts, and those meetings have been split right down the middle – the duo going one-all on the surface between 2008 and 2009.
If Venus Williams is on-song, then the sharp American should be well on her way to the last eight in Wuhan. If not, then things could be close. But look out for who wins the first set. In this rivalry, that woman has gone on to win the match on all occasions bar one.
Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova collide in the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open at 2pm local time (7am BST.)