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Beyond the Baseline

Kuznetsova's comeback produces promising early returns in Australia

Svetlana Kuznetsova has seen her ranking tumble to No. 85. (Nigel Owen/Icon SMI) Svetlana Kuznetsova has seen her ranking tumble to No. 85. (Nigel Owen/Icon SMI)

Svetlana Kuznetsova didn't exactly miss tennis during her six-month layoff last year, when a knee injury ended her season after Wimbledon. After 12 years of nonstop traveling and playing, Kuznetsova said it was a blessing in disguise, the perfect excuse for her to return home to Moscow and, well, just chill.

"I love to do this job, but sometimes it's too much," Kuznetsova said after beating Caroline Wozniacki 7-6 (4), 1-6, 6-2 in the second round of the Sydney International on Tuesday. As an example, Kuznetova cited the time she experienced burnout while training in Spain in 2008. "I couldn't do this any longer," she said.

Kuznetsova won her first major at the 2004 U.S. Open when she was 19. Back then, the brace-faced Russian had no idea what she was getting into. She turned pro in 2000. Success came quickly and suddenly, possibly before she actually understood exactly what it took to not only win Grand Slam tournaments but also stay atop the game. Blessed with natural athleticism that translated into the powerful groundstrokes of a big-hitting baseliner, along with the quickness and agility to cover the court like a counterpuncher, Kuznetsova could do it all.

Often, that was the problem. She has struggled to play with a sense of clarity, to know exactly what she wanted to do and execute. Sometimes having too much talent leads to too many options, which leads to confusion. That's where Kuznetsova found herself last year, when she had no idea what shot was coming off her racket at any given moment.

Kuznetsova didn't fall out of love with the game but with the grind of the tour. The hectic schedule, which takes players from continent to continent for 10 months out of the year (plus multiple-week training blocks during the offseason), left the sociable Russian miserable.

"I never feel sick of the game because I love tennis a lot," she said. "I have been sick from traveling. I have been sick from staying away from home, from my family, from my friends."

Kuznetsova spent two months on crutches after July knee surgery, followed by weeks of rehabilitation. The 27-year-old feels refreshed after five weeks of prep for the season.

"I feel balanced on the court," she said. "I feel like I'm doing the right things when I have to do them."

Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion, has never made it past the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. (Rob Griffith/AP) Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion, has never made it past the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. (Rob Griffith/AP)

Kuznetsova was motivated to get back not because she missed the sport, but because she felt she had more tennis in her. With her ranking having plummeted to No. 85, Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam champion and former world No. 2, was in what she described as a "weird" situation of having to play qualifiers to get into Sydney. She won three matches to reach the main draw and defeated Julia Goerges in the first round before upsetting Wozniacki, her biggest win since beating Agnieszka Radwanska at the French Open last year.

"One month, two months, three months, I was like, I think I need to work," she said. "I need to have a goal. Because like this, I had no goal. I was just relaxing. It was good for me. But I think the most important thing in the life is to have a goal. On the court, off the court, whatever, so your life [is] going somewhere  If you stop having goals, your life just freezes in the same position.

"I will have time to stay at home after my career. ... My time is not to stop yet."

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