Kuznetsova Splits with Morozova: Can she Turn it Around on Her own?

Following her overdue quarterfinal win against dangerous Danish teen Caroline Wozniacki Tuesday at the Sony Ericsson Open, Svetlana Kuznetsova revealed that her coaching relationship with Olga Morozova was no more. “I'm by myself for all tournament,” she said with a hint of pride, adding that she and Morozova split last week after Indian Wells. “It's is my first tournament on my own without coach. I have 200% responsibility.”

While Sveta said she couldn’t remember the last time she played a pro event coach-less -- though she did summon a hitting partner after the first couple of days alone in Miami – flying solo is proving to be the right balm for her ailing game. The 2004 U.S. Open champ reached her first semifinal of the season and ended a three-match losing streak (not including Fed Cup) that included first-round losses at Dubai and Indian Wells to 75th-ranked Elena Vesnina and No. 107 Urszula Radwanska. Kuznetsova said she had never dropped consecutive opening matches as a pro. “At the stage I came into the tournament, I didn't believe I could make it,” she said of reaching the last four, where she squares off with Belarusian Victoria Azarenka, who destroyed Samantha Stosur 6-1, 6-0. “I am surprised.”

Kuznetsova had worked with Morozova for almost a year, having teamed up on a part-time basis with the former French Open and Wimbledon finalist at Stuttgart in April 2008. Last fall she made a major life decision, fully parting ways with the Sanchez-Casal Academy in Barcelona to return to her Russian roots and base herself in Moscow. There, she could easily train with Morozova.

Kuznetsova called Morozova an “unbelievable person and great coach,” but said they didn’t mesh on the court or off it. “We kind of didn’t get each other tennis-wise and outside-wise,” the loquacious Russian said. “We just decided it's not working out for both of us. We have perfectly good relationship between us.  I mean, she's unbelievable person. I took as I could a lot from her."

Sveta, among the best liked by her peers, has always flown under the media radar despite three Grand Slam finals and a career high of No. 2. The daughter of an intense cycling coach who has trained several world champions, she is a players’ player, content to grind it out week in and week out with little desire to lap up the limelight. But for the second time in the last six months, she finds herself at a crossroads. Closing in on five years since her sole major win and struggling to stay in the top 10, Kuznetsova is almost an afterthought. Typically, she said she didn’t give a crap. “I don't care about it. I'm just living my life, and I enjoy it.  I don't care whether I'm under radar or on top of radar. Whatever.”

What she does care about it getting her game back on track, and there are signs the sturdy, powerful St. Petersburg native with nine career titles is regaining confidence. The 2001 world junior champ has always been loaded with talent. She can crack the ball of both wings and is deft at net. Her undoing is a certain mindlessness at crucial junctures. Those strengths and flaws were in full view Tuesday against Wozniacki when, fully in control of the contest and serving for the match at 5-3, she let a couple of match points slip by with careless errors.

Visibly tired and cramping, she looked like toast when the Dane fought back to take the second set in a tiebreak. Andy Roddick, waiting to play the next match on stadium court, said his physical trainer, Doug Spreen, told him to get ready after seeing her during the mandatory 10-minute break after the second set due to heat. “Doug came in and said he saw her in the hallway during the tenminute break, and it looked like she was having trouble walking,” said the American. But Kuznetsova didn’t wilt and closed it out with a solid final set. After almost three hours, she fell on her back near the baseline when the last ball sailed long. “I was very happy to win this match, especially in the conditions how we played,” she said. 

More so, she seemed to enjoy the process of figuring out how to win completely on her own. “I know I can rely on myself,” said the Russian, who turns 24 in June and seemed fired up by a newspaper article that labeled her a “young veteran.”  “It makes me mature and it makes me find more ways, makes me stronger, because there's nobody else to help out.” Sveta noted that Wozniacki called her coach out on court several times, while she had use her own wits and experience. “I'm mature enough,” she said.

Kuznetsova does not plan to stay coach-less long, and said she is in the market for the right person. After recently relocating from Spain to her native Russia to reconnect with friends, family and culture, she wants a someone who is willing to travel to her home base. That won’t be easy. “Not many coaches will go to Moscow,” she admitted.

Kuznetsova said she would not go back to someone at the Sanchez-Casal, a break that seems permanent. But she is not one to burn bridges, and said she would train there in the lead up to the claycourt season. She seems set to move forward and not back after the difficult and emotional break she made with the academy last year.

Kuznetsova, who won here in2006, says she loves the conditions in Miami, even if she can’t go out partying at night, like a reporter suggested. “I cannot think about night life first of all, because I played all days at 11:00,” she laughed.  “I'm professional enough (that) I'm not going out during the tournament for sure.”

Kuznetsova has not lost to rising star Azarenka in three matches, but they have not played since the fourth round at Roland Garros and the athletic Azarenka has improved much since then. If Kuznetsova is hitting her marks, few can keep up with her power. For now, it’s all in her hands. “I'm just going to concentrate on semis,” she said. “For me it's great to get to this point.”


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