NEW YORK, NY, USA - Tied at six matches apiece, the rivalry between Svetlana Kuznetsova andCaroline Wozniacki is among the most underrated in tennis.
Meeting for the 13th time in the second round of this year's US Open, the pair differs in almost every way. The Russian's power game contrasts the Dane's wall-like defenses. Kuznetsova's flashes of brilliances have been rewarded with two Grand Slam titles, while Wozniacki's maddening consistency earned her the No.1 ranking for 67 weeks - the ninth largest total in WTA history.
Two of their most high-profile meetings have come in Flushing Meadows; the first was all the way back in 2009, when Kuznetsova was a reigning French Open winner, while Wozniacki was a star on the rise. The Dane took the match in three tense sets to make it all the way to her first major final. Two years later, it was Wozniacki who was on top of the world, taking on a feisty veteran Kuznetsova, who was eager to earn her way back into the upper echelons in the game.
"She's been playing well, and we've had a lot of grueling matches, like 7-6 and 7-5 in the third," Wozniacki told press after her first round win over Taylor Townsend. "It's a match I'm looking forward to. I'm just going to have fun out there and enjoy every moment."
"It's another match," Kuznetsova echoed after her 6-1, 6-2 victory against Francesca Schiavone. "She's a great opponent, a great player. It's going to be another tough one. I just have to go out there and play my best; that's it."
The tides have turned yet again, and Kuznetsova is back in the Top 10 with her best season since 2009 already in the books, while Wozniacki is at a nine-year low at No.74 after months of injury woes.
"It hasn't been a good season, because I've been injured for most of it," Wozniacki mused. "That's something you can't really do much about other than keep working and keep trying to get your body in check. I'm just happy to be here and happy to get another match."
Wozniacki christened the new Grandstand court with a titanic match against Townsend, who battled through three rounds of qualies and was a set away from unseating the former No.1.
"It was really difficult, with her lefty spin serves. I like to say I'm one of the better returners on tour, but that did not show and so that was really frustrating. Once we kind of got going in the rally, I felt ok, but I'm just happy to be here.
"It was a little windy, and I wasn't sure which way the wind was going, but I was just like, 'Ok, especially on the return, just get it in - anywhere!'"
The gambles paid off against the young American, but an even tougher test looms against Kuznetsova, who defeated her in straight sets just two months ago at Wimbledon.
"I don't take much from Wimbledon, to be honest. Hardcourts are a completely different game. At this point, I'm just happy when I'm healthy, and that's been my focus this year, just trying to get back healthy and feeling 100% body-wise. It's been a struggle, and I feel like I'm there now, and make the most of it for the rest of the year."
Kuznetsova can relate to ups and downs; she calls them a career.
"Tennis players, we get affected by the press, by the people, by the parents, by the country, and by the federation. What you start to learn is to not be affected by the idea that everyone wants something from you, because I'm not a dollar. There's no way everyone's going to like me!
"I've had to get comfortable within myself, and so if you don't like me, it's not my problem. I'm trying to be a better person to everyone else, and a better player every day. That's important for me, and I just leave other things behind that I cannot change. I was letting myself down because of the expectations of other people, but it's more important for me not to let down my own expectations.
"When you start to focus on that, you get a different perspective of everything."
It's a perspective she'll need to earn the winning edge in their storied head-to-head, but not one that can be earned overnight.
"It's all about work, day by day. That's why I said, I can't let myself down, because if you let down after you lose, you miss a good strike of days. Days count by days and accumulate, and then you get better. It's many days of work, and not one day, where I had a dream or something."
Kuznetsova and Wozniacki play for a spot in the third round on Wednesday.
Courtois Straight Through to the Semis
– Pauline Courtois leads after first day