14th seed Kristina Mladenovic is finally showing her potential in 2017. The Frenchwoman is competing in a Premier Mandatory semifinals at the Mutua Madrid Open for the second time, after losing to eventual BNP Paribas Open champion Elena Vesnina in the semifinals in the Californian Desert. Nevertheless, despite a slow start to the new season after first round losses in Hobart and at the Australian Open, the 23-year-old who turns 24 on Sunday put that right in St. Petersburg. Mladenovic defeated Elise Mertens, seven-time Grand Slam champion and Australian Open runner-up Venus Williams, 2015 US Open runner-up Roberta Vinci, Natalia Vikhlyantseva and Yulia Putintseva to claim her maiden WTA title at a Premier event.
Mladenovic defeated world number three Karolina Pliskova in Dubai but lost to Qiang Wang in the third round. However, the Frenchwoman reached her second final of the year in Acapulco losing to Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko in straight sets. Mladenovic's run to the semifinals in Indian Wells was memorable as she defeated Simona Halep and Caroline Wozniacki along the way. Unfortunately, she was unable to replicate her run in Miami after losing in her opening match but once again, the 23-year-old rebounded. Mladenovic's run to the semifinals in Stuttgart was absolutely impressive. The 14th seed defeated Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, ended top seed Angelique Kerber's two-year reign as champion, Carla Suarez Navarro and halted Maria Sharapova's comeback from a 15-month doping suspension with a three-set victory, and it would have been a sweet victory for Mladenovic as she was one of the players, who criticised Sharapova's return to tennis. However, she was unable to replicate her victories in the final and lost to Stuttgart's own Laura Siegemund in a three-set thriller which required a final set tiebreaker.
Mladenovic's semifinal opponent is occasional doubles partner Svetlana Kuznetsova, and the duo played together in the Spanish capital but lost in the first round to Kiki Bertens and Johanna Larsson. Kuznetsova possesses a 15-7 win-loss record in 2017, and last year was a good year for the two-time Grand Slam champion. The Russian advanced to the fourth round of the French Open and Wimbledon but lost to eventual champions Garbine Muguruza and Serena Williams respectively. The eighth seed advanced to the fourth round of the Australian Open this year losing to compatriot Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who completed their set of reaching the last eight of all four Slams in the process. The 31-year-old veteran's run to the final in Indian Wells was impressive. The Russian defeated four seeded players back-to-back in Roberta Vinci, Caroline Garcia, Pavlyuchenkova and Karolina Pliskova but her compatriot Vesnina came back from a set down to heap more misery on Kuznetsova, who lost her third final at Indian Wells. Following her fourth round loss to Venus Williams in Miami, Kuznetsova returned to European clay courts in preparation for the French Open. The former world number two defeated Kiki Bertens in three sets but lost to eventual champion Laura Siegemund in straight sets.
Mladenovic's path to the semifinals
The 14th seed is yet to play a seeded player en route to securing a spot in the semifinals in the solitary clay court Premier Mandatory event of the year. Mladenovic recovered from a set down to dispatch last year's US Open quarterfinalist Ana Konjuh, who retired from an injury in the final set. The Frenchwoman required three sets to send Lauren Davis packing in the second round but it was a comprehensive, 6-2, 6-1 victory over compatriot Oceane Dodin, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the quarterfinals in Madrid for the very first time. In the quarterfinals, Mladenovic only needed two sets to defeat last year's quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 6-4.
Kuznetsova's path to the semifinals
The two-time Grand Slam champion began her quest for a maiden Mutua Madrid Open title against three-time Slam quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova. It could have been a trickier first round match but Kuznetsova came through that match unscathed. The 2015 finalist suffered an almighty scare in the second round against Alison Riske but won the match in three sets. The Russian hasn't played a seeded player either but she has taken advantage of a draw that saw Angelique Kerber fall in the third round, Elina Svitolina and Lucic-Baroni, the other two seeded players in this section fell in the first round. Kuznetsova recorded two back-to-back straight sets wins over Chinese qualifier Qiang Wang, and she dismantled Eugenie Bouchard who defeated Sharapova and Kerber this week as the Russian outclassed the 2014 Wimbledon runner-up, 6-4, 6-0 to set up this semifinal clash with Mladenovic.
The duo has met once and it was in the first round of the US Open in 2015. Mladenovic upset the former US Open champion, 6-3, 7-5, and she eventually went on to reach her maiden Slam quarterfinal. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old's run ended in the quarterfinals at the hands of eventual finalist Roberta Vinci.
Who advances to the final?
The 14th seed has a game that is suited for all three courts, which makes her extremely dangerous on any surface that she plays on. The Frenchwoman uses a variety in her game, and she likes to dominate on the baseline to win points. Her forehand and backhands are both strong but she is stronger with her forehand. The Frenchwoman's height at over 6'0 helps when she is serving, which is another reason why she is a good server. However, her second serve is weaker and is attackable which Kuznetsova as a good returner will be looking to exploit. Mladenovic no longer plays doubles with her compatriot Caroline Garcia but from playing doubles, it has helped develop her net game, which helps her out in singles matches. Despite being tall, she has good movement on clay courts, and she gave Serena Williams a run for her money in last year's third round encounter at the French Open.
Like her occasional doubles partner, Kuznetsova also possesses an all-court game. The two-time Grand Slam champion has tremendous athleticism, and she is extremely fast around the court. Kuznetsova employs a solid forehand and she is comfortable on the baseline, and if she needs to finish off long baseline rallies, she will not hesitate to come forward. The eighth seed is a very good singles player, and she has a good net game too from her days from playing in doubles, and the Russian is a two-time Australian Open doubles winner.
This semifinal match will be on the Manolo Santana court at not before 8pm local time, and the winner of this match will face last year's US Open quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova, the last remaining unseeded player in the draw or third seed and defending champion Simona Halep in the final. This encounter will be very close but Kuznetsova's experience in these predicaments should see her over the line.
Prediction: Kuznetsova in three sets.