Pagliaro: The Woz Makes A Comeback

Arthur Ashe Stadium is the largest Grand Slam stage in the sport.

Caroline Wozniacki felt the walls closing in on her in the opening set today.

Blitzed by 2004 US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, Wozniacki was down 0-4, Love-30 25 minutes into the match.

The two-time finalist responded to the bleak start with a sustained burst.

Grinding through seven straight games, Wozniacki won 12 of the final 16 games defeating the ninth-seeded Kuznetsova, 6-4, 6-4, to advance to the US Open third round for the seventh time.

“She started off on fire, and I was just, I need to keep fighting and keep going,” Wozniacki said.”Hopefully I’ll find a way to change the score. I was just thinking, you know, I just have to try and step up a little bit and be closer to the baseline, even if I lose the first set, and then I’ll have the momentum going into the second set.”

It was Wozniacki’s first Top 10 win since she defeated Angelique Kerber in Tokyo last year.

The former world No. 1 had drifted into major irrelevance entering her 10th US Open with an unsightly ranking of No. 74, a mediocre 14-14 record on the season after missing the clay schedule because of an ankle injury and searching for confidence after an opening-round exit in New Haven.

The expanse of Arthur Ashe Stadium gave the former New York City marathoner plenty of room to roam and provided Kuznetsova ample space for festering frustration.

“She got on top and psychologically it was a little bit tough for me,” Kuznetsova said. “I was frustrated because I was playing good. I just didn’t close few balls on the net and then it was frustrating to start the second set.

“It was a bit more frustration A couple of games start to slip away and then I lost the set. It was just like five minutes ago it was 4-Love and then 6-4 so that moment I shouldn’t let happen.”

Fast feet, stubborn self belief and past experience propelled the world No. 74. Wozniacki knew she could comeback against Kuznetsova because she’s already done it on the same stage.

Five years ago, Wozniacki reeled off 12 of the final 14 games in roaring back for a 6-7 (6), 7-5, 6-1 victory over Kuznetsova that spanned three hours and two minutes and sent her into the US Open quarterfinals.

Since that match, Kuznetsova had won four of their last five encounters, including a 7-5, 6-4 decision in the Wimbledon first round in June.

Initially, Kuznetsova was dictating play in today’s rematch.

Planting her feet outside the doubles alley, Kuznetsova cranked a backhand winner down the line to break in the opening game. Driving the ball into the corner, Kuznetsova broke again for 3-0 when Wozniacki’s stretch backhand expired into net.

Twenty-six minutes into the match Wozniacki finally got on the board, rallying from 0-30 down to hold in the fifth game eliciting a roar from the crowd. A backhand winner down the line gave her break point and a backhand into the body sealed the Dane’s break for 2-4 igniting her comeback.

Facing triple break point in the ninth game, Wozniacki hit a bounce smash from a foot inside the baseline to save a break point and spark some aggression. Wozniacki worked through an eight-and-a-half minute game holding with her fifth straight game.

Deadlocked at 30-all, Wozniacki rapped a backhand down the line that was initially called out. She challenged and Hawk-Eye showed the ball caught the edge of the sideline giving the former No. 1 set point.

When Kuznetsova steered a forehand wide, Wozniacki earned her third straight break to snatch a 56-minute set that seemed out of reach a half-hour earlier.

Stamping a love hold to open the second set, Wozniacki had reeled off seven straight games by then.

A committed counter-puncher who has been trying to take the ball earlier, Wozniacki did a good job redirecting the ball, particularly with her kill shot the backhand down the line. Eleven of the Dane’s 24 winners came from her two-handed backhand.

“I always believe in myself and I always believe in my head I belong at the top of the game,” Wozniacki said. “I’m gonna have tough draws because of my ranking.”

Seventy-nine minutes into the match, Kuznetsova didn’t do enough with a forehand volley then badly bungled a routine smash pushing the shot wide to gift the break and a 3-1 second-set lead to the former finalist.

The pair exchanged breaks before Wozniacki strung together eight straight points to extend the league for 5-2. Serving at 4-5, Kuznetsova was two points from leveling the set.

Wozniacki kept calm and whipped a forehand winner down the line to end it in one hour, 44 minutes taking a 7-6 lead in her head-to-head series with Kuznetsova.

Whether this Top 10 win is a springboard back to the Top 50 remains to be seen, but beating Kuznetsova has been a positive for Wozniacki in the past. In 2009, she defeated the Russian in the round of 16 and went on to reach the final. Two years later, Wozniacki rallied past Kuznetsova again en route to the semifinals.

“Today was definitely a step in the right direction,” Wozniacki said. “I’m really proud of the way I just kept fighting. You know, I’m just enjoying myself and happy that I get another chance in two days.”

Wozniacki, who won 11 of 18 trips to net today, will try to stay aggressive when she faces No. 52 Monica Niculescu for a place in the round of 16.

“She’s a tricky player. She gets a lot of balls back,” Wozniacki said. “It’s going to be long rallies. She’s got a slice for forehand and backhand side. She’s going to mix the pace.

“It’s definitely going to be a match where I need to keep cool and just have fun with it, really”

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