Kuznetsova denies Barty's bid to return to World No. 1

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Ashleigh Barty of Australia (R) shakes hands with Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia after losing in straight sets during Day 8 of the Western and Southern Open at Lindner Family Tennis Center in Mason, Ohio, on Saturday. — AFP

CINCINNATI — Resurgent Svetlana Kuznetsova denied Ashleigh Barty a chance to reclaim the world number one ranking Saturday as the Russian veteran thrashed the Australian 6-2, 6-4 in the WTA Cincinnati Masters semifinals.

Barty could have re-taken the top ranking she lost last week to Japan's Naomi Osaka had she reached the final.

The shutdown triumph by the 34-year-old double Grand Slam winner leaves injured Osaka atop the rankings with the US Open starting a week from Monday.

Kuznetsova will play for the title on Sunday against the winner of a later semi-final between Americans Sofia Kenin and Madison Keys.

In later ATP semifinals, top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia faces Russia's Daniil Medvedev and France's Richard Gasquet will meet Belgium's David Goffin.

Barty, who had rallied from a set down to win her previous two matches, was off the boil against Kuznetsova, who is back on form after several seasons of injuries, including a wrist problem.

Kuznetsova was delayed in her hardcourt summer start due to US visa problems, but won two rounds last week in Canada before getting her American entry sorted.

She is back to her Spanish tennis roots and is pleased with the changes that have resulted.

"It's amazing to be playing here again on center court after the injuries of the last few years," she said.

"I must admit, I did enjoy the time at home in Moscow, sleeping in my own bed. I was glad to have the time off.

"I'm back now and feeling no pressure. I never though I'd be back to this level so quickly," the former Roland Garros and US Open champion said.

"I'm playing good tennis again."

Kuznetsova broke Barty three times in the opening set and ran off eight consecutive games to reach 2-0 in the second set.

From there, it was just a matter of time, with the player who came into the field on a wild card entry showing her best game.

Kuznetsova reached three match points after 67 minutes and converted on the first with a winner past Barty, who had more than 25 unforced errors, mainly off her forehand.

Kuznetsova, bidding for her 19th career title, now stands 15-8 in Cincinnati, the final major tuneup for the Open. Her season record is 12-8 after only returning to the courts last April. — AFP


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