Kuznetsova downs Barty, will meet Keys in Cincinnati final

Australia’s Ashleigh Barty was denied a chance to reclaim the world number one ranking, which she would have done by reaching the WTA Cincinnati Masters final. (Reuters pic)

CINCINNATI: Svetlana Kuznetsova will bid for her first title in more than a year after reaching the final of the WTA Cincinnati Masters, defeating Ashleigh Barty 6-2, 6-4 on Saturday.

The two-time Grand Slam champion will aim for her 19th career trophy as she takes on 2017 US Open finalist Madison Keys, a 7-5, 6-4 winner over Sofia Kenin.

Kuznetsova denied Barty a chance to reclaim the world number one ranking, which the Australian would have done by reaching the final.

Instead, the triumph by 34-year-old Kuznetsova leaves injured Naomi Osaka atop the rankings with the US Open starting a week from Monday.

In the men’s draw, 2018 semi-finalist David Goffin reached his first ATP Masters level final by defeating France’s Richard Gasquet 6-3, 6-4.

The Belgian, the 2017 London ATP Finals runner-up, controlled Gasquet a day after advancing by walkover against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka.

“I was completely lost yesterday. I was ready to play a match,” Goffin said. “I just practised in the end.”

Goffin will face either top-ranked Novak Djokovic of Serbia or Russia’s Daniil Medvedev in Sunday’s final.

“I knew before the match that I had to go and be aggressive on his second serve, to put him under pressure,” Goffin said. “That was the tactic before the match, and I did it really well. I put him under pressure. Controlled the game after the return.

“It worked well, that was the key of the win.”

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

“This was a week that I battled through,” Barty said. “At times I played some good stuff. At times I played some pretty awful stuff.

“I’ve learned a lot from this week, and there are nothing but positives going into New York.”

Kuznetsova’s hardcourt build-up to the US Open was delayed due to US visa problems, but she won two rounds last week in Toronto before getting her American entry sorted.

“I felt I was in control because I’m moving well, bringing every ball back, playing very consistent,” said Kuznetsova who gave herself three match points after 67 minutes and converted on the first with a winner.

Kuznetsova, who trained as a teen in Barcelona, has returned to her Spanish tennis roots, re-hiring former coach Carlos Martinez, who has also worked with Spaniards Feliciano Lopez, Fernando Vicente and Rafael Nadal’s occasional doubles partner Marc Lopez.

Martinez coached Kuznetsova to 2016 titles Sydney and Moscow, which earned her a place in the year-end finals three years ago.

‘Super-happy’ Keys

Keys booked her finals spot as she won an all-American match littered with 12 breaks of serve from 20 break chances.

She earned match points with a flick volley winner angled steeply cross-court and amazed herself with the get.

“I looked at my box in shock,” she admitted. “I’m really feeling great about my tennis.

“When I was down breakpoints in the second set, I was just thinking that I knew I could break back, that was my biggest thought.

“I’m super happy to be in my first final here. I love getting matches under my belt before a Grand Slam.

“Sveta has been playing incredibly well. She’s a crafty player with a little bit of everything,” Keys added. “Our match will be pretty difficult.”