2004 Hastings Direct International

Kuznetsova claims crown with stirring comeback

Svetlana Kuznetsova clawed her way back against Slovakia slugger Daniela Hantuchova to snatch the Hastings Direct International Championships in tight final against 2-6 7-6(2) 6-4.

The Russian teenager was overwhelmed in the opening set by the very popular Hantuchova, and left the vocal Centre Court split on who to support in this fascinating contest.

Long-legged Hantuchova was edging closer to victory and twice was two points from winning when serving for the title at 6-5 in the second set.

But the powerful Kuznetsova held her nerve to force a tie-break and easily won it as Hantuchova was snatching at shots, seemingly distracted by fluffing her chances to have secured the title.

The final set was a tense affair with the Russian 18-year-old having the bottle for a battle. Hantuchova volleyed wide to be broken for a 5-4 deficit and Kuznetsova saved three break points in the 10th game to capture the Hastings Direct crown.

Kuznetsova had finished runner-up in all three finals this year coming into Eastbourne, and breathed a huge sign of relief following her third career tournament success.

Russians seem to have a monopoly going into Wimbledon with Kuznetsova’s compatriots Anastasia Myskina and rising star Maria Sharapova winning the French Open and last week’s grass court tournament in Birmingham respectively.

Kuznetsova, a Wimbledon quarter-finalist last year, explained: “It was a very close final and a game of nerves.

“I just can’t get into the match at the start, and Daniela was playing so well in the first set. But finally I managed to put my first serve in and I did well.”

Hantuchova admitted: “This week’s been a turning point. I’ve always believed in myself, even in the difficult times.

“I got some wins for confidence so I cannot ask for a better Wimbledon preparation.”

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