When Elena Vesnina made the singles semifinals of Wimbledon 2016, I thought it was a wonderful achievement. However, I didn’t think it was anything more than an isolated once in a career kind of Major run where everything fell together perfectly. Don’t misunderstand, I know Elena has a Hall of Fame type of resume…as a doubles player. Vesnina is a two time women’s double Major winner. She also has a Tour Championship title and an Olympic Gold Medal in women’s doubles. Add in two Fed Cup championships for Team Russia and a mixed doubles Major title and you have a career worthy of respect. But until that semifinal appearance at Wimbledon last year, then-29 year old Elena had never been past the 4th round of a Major. Actually, she had only ever even reached a Major 4th round three times. As for a Premier Mandatory like the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells, it was a similar story. Elena only once had even reached a 4th round. Last year at Indian Wells, she didn’t even make the main draw, crashing out in qualifying.
But for those paying close attention to Elena Vesnina in 2016, there was a tranformation happening. A once tempermental singles talent who had underachieved was starting to find her way as a singles player. It wasn’t only that she made a Wimbledon SF. She began the year outside the top 100, dropping to #122 when she failed to qualify for the 2016 Australian Open main draw. She finished the year at #16. The surge came as she reached the quarterfinals of Doha, where she beat Simona Halep, Caroline Garcia and former world #1 Caroline Wozniacki. Vesnina was the first qualifier to reach the final at the Volvo Car Open (Charleston), finishing runner-up to Sloane Stephens. As the wins started to pile up, her ranking also shot up.
Now 30 years old, like Francesca Schiavone and Li Na before her, Elena Vesnina is having a late career renaissance. No need to go through qualifying this year at Indian Wells, as Elena came in as the 14th seed. She beat 2016 Player of the Year and reigning US Open champion Angelique Kerber, this year’s Australian Open runner-up Venus Williams and one of the best players in 2017 that the mainstream sports fan doesn’t yet know about, Kiki Mladenovic. The final was an all-Russian affair as she took on two time Major singles champion and 8th seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. It was a very dramatic match. Chris Evert commented during the telecast that each player played better when they would fall behind. It made for great ebb and flow, with Vesnina outlasting her countrywoman, 6-7 (6) 7-5 6-4 to capture her third career singles title, her first since June of 2013. With Serena Williams’ injury questions, Victoria Azarenka and Petra Kvitova still out indefinitely and nobody knowing what kind of game Maria Sharapova will show up with when she returns, the top of the WTA isn’t untouchable for a player like Elena. While she has only 1 win versus the trio of Serena, Vika and Masha (against whom the lone win came), Elena has at least a .500 record or better against Elina Svitolina, Venus Williams, Dominika Cibulkova, Eugenie Bouchard and Lucie Safarova. If she continues to play as she did at Indian Wells this year, controlled emotionally and fearlessly going for her shots, the players currently playing week in and week out are eminently beatable by this version of Vesnina.
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14 ELENA VESNINA d. 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-7 (6) 7-5 6-4