Hair cut does the trick for Kuznetsova
Russian veteran finds strength under intense strain to stun reigning champion Radwanska
At 2-0 down in the second set, Svetlana Kuznetsova took a deep breath and trudged towards the line judge's chair at the back of the court.
She gasped for air a second time, then paused for another deep breath before wiping her down her face.
The Russian was glistening with sweat, and of course she was.
This was the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore, a battle of the best eight tennis women in the world, and no one would be waltzing to the finish line.
Kuznetsova started her singles clash in the White Group slow, going 4-1 down to defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska in the first set before her engine kicked into gear.
She matched the Pole cut for cut, thrust for counter-thrust - she even gave La Profesora a taste of her own ninja-tennis medicine - and actually took the set.
But this was a war of attrition, and Radwanska, 27, had a lot more in the tank.
See, Kuznetsova blitzed through the last few weeks just trying to earn a spot in Singapore.
First the 31-year-old was at the Tianjin Open in China, losing after three sets in the semi-final there and flying to Moscow for the Kremlin Cup on the same night. The equation was simple, win there and earn a ticket to Singapore, and she started practising straightaway, getting into competition two days later.
The journey to Singapore was worse.
She won in Moscow on Sunday, and spent 12 hours in the air, making it here before the calendar had a chance to move.
Kuznetsova's right bicep bears her mantra on suffering. The tattoo reads: "Pain doesn't kill me, I kill the pain".
And the Russian had to live up to her ink last night at the Indoor Stadium, because it would get worse.
She crumbled in the second set, falling 6-1, and again, went 2-0 down in the third.
And then it seemed the ink kicked in.
She cut her hair - because it was getting into her eyes - cried into her towel, smashed her racket into her thigh, and then later onto the court.
Yes, she cut her hair. Courtside.
"You know, I tried to behave and act like I'm professional athlete, professional player, but sometimes it's not easy," she said, later.
"I put aside that I'm tired, I put aside emotions, the jet lag… I was trying to think we're even. We came here both to fight and let's play the match - put all things aside.
"I'm trying so hard, then I just let it go because I was like - come on - it was just impossible right now. I was trying as much, as hard as I can to fight and just be there - I just did it as I felt."
And it worked - Kuznetsova saved a match-point, and went on to win 7-5, 1-6, 7-5.
"Tennis, it's like chess a little bit. It's really hard to say but, even when she had match-point, I thought I have to stay there. You know, make it uncomfortable for her," she said.
"I was not playing my best. I think she didn't play her best either, but somebody had to win it."
And it was not easy for Radwanska to swallow.
She walked in to the post-match press conference looking like her eyes were still wet from tears.
"Well, of course very disappointing, especially that I had a chance in the first and the third set and just slip away. So turn up like this I guess against those kind of players like Sveta when you're not taking your chances, you're not going to be a winner," she said.
"Matches like this, it always gives you a lot of experience and lesson for the future. Of course, especially in the tournaments like this."
For Kuznetsova, the lesson was a simple one. Just take it step by step, and let it go - even her hair.
"I wish I could do (this) earlier in my career, to believe more in myself. That probably what I've learnt more, you know: just taking it step by step," she said.
"That's how it worked for me."
I thought, ‘Okay, what’s more important now, my hair which I can let grow or the match?’ I thought, ‘Okay, I got to go for it right now’, and that’s it. I was not thinking too much though. I was just trying to get the best of me, and take out what bothers me.
— Svetlana Kuznetsova
Today's action, Red Group, from 7.30pm
- Angelique Kerber (GER, x1) v Simona Halep (ROM, x3)followed by
- Madison Keys (USA, x6) v Dominika Cibulkova (SVK, x7)