A knee injury saw Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova miss the second half of the 2012 season, but the two-time grand slam champion has made a winning return at 2013 Australian Open 2013.
Tennis is a gruelling sport and injuries have derailed many careers or forced players into early retirement. At 27 was Kuznetsova about to follow suit?
This certainly isn’t the case, with Kuznetsova answering any doubters with her fourth round run here at Melbourne Park.
Her form so far this tournament suggests she may well soon add to an impressive trophy cabinet that already contains the 2004 US Open and 2009 French Open titles. In fact, Kuznetsova believes her six-month lay-off was the best thing that could have happened to her.
“I was very tired and I wanted to have a break. I had my injury, so it was a good time for me to have one,” she said.
Kuznetsova did not play after Wimbledon, missing the Olympics and US Open, ending a streak of 40 consecutive grand slams. She spent two months on crutches as she recovered at her Moscow home.
Her ranking tumbled to a low of 85 at the start of January, as she finished the 2012 season outside the top 50 for the first time since 2001. She is currently ranked 75 and unseeded at a grand slam for the first time since 2003.
Kuznetsova made her competitive return in Auckland in January, losing to world No. 63 Kiki Bertens in three sets.
She then came through qualifying in Sydney, a tournament she has been seeded at five times in the past, upsetting world No. 10 Caroline Wozniaki and world No. 18 Julia Goerges in a run to the quarter-finals, where she lost to world No. 5 Angelique Kerber.
Kuznetsova has now won three matches at Melbourne Park to make her sixth fourth round appearance in her 12th visit to the Australian Open, where her best results are quarter-finals in 2005 and 2009.
She says she feels motivated and rejuvenated, with her absence reminding her of her love of the game.
“I feel great. My knee doesn’t bother me and I feel fit,” she said.
“I definitely think the break helped my game a lot.”
Yet even she admits she is surprised to be in the second week of a grand slam so soon.
“I didn’t expect it. I just wanted to see what will be,” she said.
“It’s my first slam since Wimbledon so I am really just enjoying myself out on the court.”
Kuznetsova, who reached a career-high ranking of 2 in 2007 and was a permanent figure in the top 20 between May 2004 and July 2011, now has her sights set on returning to the top of the women’s game.
“I want to get back as high as I can and keep improving my game,” she said.
Her immediate attention is a fourth round showdown with former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki.
“It’s going to be a difficult match,” Kuznetsova said. “She is a very stable opponent and you have to really play consistent against her.”
Wozniacki has beaten Kuznetsova in five of their eight matches, but Kuznetsova won their last meeting a fortnight ago in Sydney in three sets.
“It gives you a little bit (of confidence), but it is a new page,” Kuznetsova said.
“You have to throw it all away. It is a new match, a new day. Past matches don’t matter when you walk out on court.”