The similarities between Elena Vesnina and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who will play for the women's title Sunday at the BNP Paribas Open, go well beyond both having been born in Russia.
One year ago Vesnina, 30, lost in the first round of qualifying for this tournament and was forced to rebuild her ranking and her confidence in slow steps. She had to learn to win in qualifying to find encouragement in losses. Things began to turn for her when she upset Venus Williams in the second round at Miami and then endured a close loss to Johanna Konta.
"These kind of things give you belief that you're almost there. Your ranking is not there, but your game is there," said Vesnina, seeded No. 14 here. "I think this is the most important, thinking about your game, not about your [ranking] points."
Kuznetsova, 31, won titles at the U.S. Open in 2004 and the French Open in 2009 but struggled with injuries and dropped to No. 85 in January of 2013. She, too, had to work her way back to the top: Titles last year in Sydney and Moscow represented the first time she had won more than one tournament in a year since 2009. An abdominal injury that led her to withdraw from tournaments in Dubai and Qatar left her uncertain about her prospects here, but she told her coach, Carlos Martinez, she felt strong mentally.
"Most important thing is I feel fresh. I feel fresh in my mind. That's what I didn't feel in Australia," she said of her fourth-round loss in the Australian Open. "I was a little bit burnt up. So I came here, I said, 'Maybe I'm not my best, but I feel great.'
"I was playing match by match. First match, I had so many ups and downs. Second one, third one, better. Every match, getting better. Here we are in the finals."
No. 8 seed Kuznetsova reached the final by defeating Johanna Larsson, Roberta Vinci, Caroline Garcia, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and, on Friday, No. 3 seed Karolina Pliskova, 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5). Vesnina advanced by defeating Shelby Rogers, Timea Babos, No. 2 Angelique Kerber in the round of 16, No. 12 Venus Williams in the quarterfinal, and Kristina Mladenovic in the semifinal on Friday, 3-6, 7-6( 4), 6-2.
They've practiced together occasionally in the past but have faced each other in singles only twice. Vesnina won a hard-court match in Dubai in 2009 and Kuznetsova won on clay in Portugal in 2014. Kuznetsova said she hasn't seen many of Vesnina's matches here but Vesnina said she has been impressed with Kuznetsova's play. "She's using her forehand, like, powerful forehand topspin here a lot. Brings a lot of points," Vesnina said. "She was serving really well in key moments. It's going to be very difficult match, you know, when you're playing against kind of [someone] from the same country. You know, it's never easy, but I'm going to just enjoy."
Yung-Jan Chan of Chinese Taipei and Martina Hingis of Switzlernad won the women's doubles title Saturday with a 7-6(4), 6-2 victory over Lucie Hradecka and Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic. [