Why Svetlana Kuznetsova Is WTA's Most Underrated Champion

Merlisa Lawrence Corbett@@merlisaFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2013

Svetlana Kuznetsova at Indian Wells 2013
Svetlana Kuznetsova at Indian Wells 2013Julian Finney/Getty Images

Svetlana Kuznetsova is the WTA's forgotten champion.

A clay-court specialist dismissed during the clay season, Kuznetsova is mounting a Rafael Nadal-style comeback. Yet nobody seems to notice.  

Kuznetsova advanced to the third round at the Madrid Open, where she lost a three-set battle to No. 6 Angelique Kerber, 6-3, 4-6, 5-7.  

As we get closer to the French Open, her name should be right up there with Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams for possible winners at Roland Garros.  

Sometimes called Sveta or Kuzy by fans, Kuznetsova has two Grand Slam titles: 2009 French Open and 2004 U.S. Open. This ranks her fourth, tied with Victoria Azarenka, among active players.

She's been in four Grand Slam finals and is No. 12 among the WTA's all-time career prize money leaders. 

So why no talk about Kuznetsova? How did she become the forgotten champion?

Is it her age? Kuznetsova turns 28 in June. This makes her four years younger than Williams. Just two years older than Sharapova. 

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Perhaps her ranking? She is ranked No. 40.  She finished 2012 ranked No. 72, but missed six months with a knee injury. 

Maybe she's not considered attractive enough? She refuses to participate in the "glam slam" game that many on the WTA tour play. In an era where some women on tour wear full makeup, bedazzled nails and dangling earrings on court, Kuznetsova dresses in what could best be described as workout gear.

She often looks more prepared for kickboxing than the fashion show called women's tennis. 

Reportedly, even Russian President Vladimir Putin dissed Kuznetsova. In 2004, Putin called Sharapova and congratulated her after her Wimbledon win. He called fellow Russian Anastasia Myskina after her French Open win. However, Putin apparently didn't do the same for Kuznetsova after she won the U.S. Open.

Her game is certainly not to blame. Kuznetsova is that rare all-around player on the WTA tour. She has the power to trade booming forehands with Williams and Sharapova. She's quick and athletic and plays defense better than Caroline Wozniacki.  

It can't be her fitness. She comes from an athletic family. Her father has coached six Olympic cycling champions. Her mother is a six-time world champion cyclist and holds 20 world records. Her brother was a silver-medal-winning cyclist at the 1996 Olympics.

Most perplexing is how Kuznetsova is being ignored during the clay-court season. She practically grew up on clay. She moved to Spain at age seven to attend the Sanchez-Casal Academy, where she trained for 10 years. 

Nevertheless, more people pick Williams—who won her French Open title 10 years ago—to win before Kuznetsova.

Kuznetsova defeated Williams and Samatha Stosur back-to-back en route to her 2009 French Open victory. She lost in the finals of the French in 2006 to clay-court legend Justine Henin. 

Williams came to Kuznetsova's defense earlier this year when she was not granted a wild card at the Dubai Open. Instead she had to endure qualifiers. 

“She’s been such a great player, and she got injured. She’s won a couple of Grand Slams, so how can such a great player not get a wild card? It’s kind of weird," Williams told the Times of India.

Sure, she does not garner the high-profile endorsements or make a splash on red carpets like Williams and Sharapova. She's not on the cover of Time magazine like one-time slam winner Li Na. She doesn't have a high-profile boyfriend like Grand Slam-less Wozniacki. 

But Kuznetsova is a champion. She is a threat on any surface against any player. Fans may have forgotten, but her opponents haven't. 

Follow Merlisa on Twitter: @merlisa