(Reuters) - Twice grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova and 14th seed Elena Vesnina posted hard-fought, straight-set wins in Friday’s semi-finals to set up an all-Russian final in the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells.
Kuznetsova played exceptional defense and used her strong serve and a varied groundstroke attack to edge third seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6(5) 7-6(2) in a tense showdown following Vesnina’s 6-3 6-4 win over Kristina Mladenovic.
The 31-year-old eighth seed Kuznetsova rose to the occasion in the tiebreakers, storming out to a 6-2 lead in each.
Nerves struck in the first-set decider as she netted two backhands and produced an embarrassing double fault that made it 6-5 before rifling a forehand passing winner to end it.
There were no dramas after taking the big tiebreak lead in the second set and she raced along the baseline for another retrieval that induced a wide forehand from the disgusted Czech, who flung down her racket as Kuznetsova rejoiced.
“I was looking to defend good because it’s really hard to overpower her,” Kuznetsova said in an on-court interview.
“So I had to put lots of pressure on her and put as many balls back as I could.”
The 24-year-old Pliskova, the ace leader on the women’s tour last year and again so far in 2017, had 10 aces and a slew of inside-out forehand winners but was often let down by her backhand.
Vesnina, a three-times grand slam doubles champion, reached her first Premier Mandatory final with victory in the California desert over 28th seed Mladenovic.
Driving winners off both wings, Vesnina raced to big leads in each set, then held off the battling Mladenovic.
Vesnina claimed a 5-0 lead in the first set, breaking her French opponent twice before letting her onto the scoreboard.
Mladenovic broke back in the seventh game, but it was too late to deny the set to Vesnina.
Vesnina dominated again at the start of the second set, breaking Mladenovic’s first two service games in building a 5-1 lead.
Swinging more freely, Mladenovic fought off one match point with a volley winner while serving down 2-5, broke the Russian in the next game and then held serve to make it 4-5.
Vesnina finally closed it out when Mladenovic netted a second serve return, sending the beaming Russian into a jump for joy.
Reporting by Larry Fine in New York; Editing by Nick Mulvenney