Sveta the Sage

© Jared Wickerham/BNP Paribas Open

By Richard Osborn

It’s getting surreal for Svetlana Kuznetsova. The two-time BNP Paribas Open finalist (2007-08) has seen players come and go over her more than decade-and-a-half on the WTA Tour. Fellow Russians Elena Dementieva, Anastasia Myskina and Anna Kournikova have all headed into retirement. Former foes like Ana Ivanovic and Kim Clijsters have hung ‘em up, too. But at the age of 31, she finds herself once again playing top-10 tennis (she’s currently No. 8), and has no plans to quit any time soon.
 
“It’s really strange sometimes,” Kuznetsova told BNPParibasOpen.com. “I was playing in St. Petersburg last month and there were five Russian girls I didn’t even know. But I think I’m blessed with the body I have, that I can play so long and enjoy the game.”
 
Sveta has become something of an enlightened one for a new generation of Russian players like Daria Kasatkina, Natalia Vikhlyantseva and Irina Khromacheva. But that’s what comes with a successful career like hers, one that includes a pair of Grand Slam titles (2004 US Open, 2009 Roland Garros). 

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“I see the respect. I see that they want to learn,” explained Kuznetsova, who sports a tattoo on her arm that reads: PAIN DOESN’T KILL ME, I KILL THE PAIN. “Some players come and ask my opinion on things. It’s great to see. When you’re on the tour for so many years, you get wiser, you understand many things, you can help the next generation not to make some mistakes. For sure they’ll make mistakes to learn, but you’re able to help.”
 
An abdominal injury briefly slowed her progress last year, but the Muscovite has enjoyed a healthy start to 2017, which includes quarterfinal finishes in Brisbane and St. Petersburg. Although if she had it her way, Kuznetsova says she would extend the off-season a bit. How long exactly?
 
“Three months.”
 
With Serena Williams sidelined with knee ailments, and power players Petra Kvitova, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova absent from the tour, it might appear that things are opening up for players like Kuznetsova, now eight years removed from her last appearance in a major final. But she’s not so convinced. 
 
“I’m not sure it’s that open, because I believe tennis these past years has risen in its level a lot,” she asserted. “Every match now is difficult. It doesn’t matter who’s playing — it’s difficult to win. The players are getting better and better.”
 
Following a first-round bye, Kuznetsova is set to face 57th-ranked Swede Johanna Larsson in the second round on Friday. It will be their first head-to-head encounter.