Muguruza manoeuvres past Pavlyuchenkova

  • David Cox

Garbine Muguruza held her nerve to overcome a self-destructing Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5 6-3 and reach her first Australian Open semifinal.

Muguruza is a two-time Grand Slam champion, winning the French Open and Wimbledon, but she has never produced her very best on hard courts, previously failing to progress beyond the last eight at either the Australian Open or the US Open. At the start of the tournament, it seemed unlikely she would end that streak this fortnight after a disappointing 2019 which saw her form and ranking nosedive and she arrived in Melbourne unseeded.

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"I wasn't thinking that far away," admitted Muguruza. "I came not feeling great. I wasn't really thinking, 'How far will I go? I had enough already thinking, How will I go practice today?' I took every day at a time. Each day I was gaining a better feeling instead of getting frustrated thinking in the future."

That has all changed over the past week-and-a-half as she has swept into the last four with at times spectacular displays of hitting. Since being bagelled in the opening set of her first-round match against Shelly Rogers, Muguruza has reeled off successive top-10 wins over Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens.

However, today was arguably her least convincing performance so far. Pavlyuchenkova will leave Melbourne wondering how this one slipped through her fingertips having led by a break in both sets, and yet managed to self-destruct on each occasion.

In many ways the match was a sad demonstration of why this talented player has never been past the last eight stage of a major despite having six Grand Slam quarterfinals to her name. The Russian is arguably the most talented player never to have been ranked in the top 10, having beaten 34 such players over the course of her career.

However, the Russian’s serve has always been her biggest weakness under pressure, liable to implode sometimes catastrophically. In one particularly bizarre match in 2011, she struck an astounding 27 double faults, and in bright sunshine at Rod Laver Arena, it was once again her undoing against Muguruza.

Eight double faults – three of them coming as she served to stay in the first set at 5-6 and two more as she looked to back up her break at the start of the second – handed Muguruza a lifeline she gratefully took. The Spaniard was struggling with her own game from the back of the court, committing 21 unforced errors, but Pavlyuchenkova simply couldn’t get the ball in play enough at crucial times to take advantage.

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“I definitely adapted to circumstances,” Muguruza said. 

“Sometimes you don’t feel great but you fight and stay there. First set was very hard, I think it lasted about an hour. It was a very important set and I’m happy I got it.”

Muguruza will be back on court in 24 hours to face 2018 finalist Simona Halep for a place in the final.