Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova returned to the Australian Open quarterfinals for the second time in three years with an enthralling 6-7(3) 6-3 6-3 triumph over fifth seed Sloane Stephens in the early hours of Monday morning.
Pavlyuchenkova pushes past Stephens
The Russian impressed by dismissing No.9 seed Kiki Bertens and the dangerous Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the past week at Melbourne Park, and battled back into the last eight for a second time in a match that finished at just before 2am.
The gruelling two-hour and 32-minute victory over the 2017 US Open champion earned a final-eight clash with another American, Danielle Collins, who ruthlessly dispatched second seed Angelique Kerber 6-0 6-2 on Sunday.
“I saw some people yawning during the match,” joked the Russian in her on-court interview, who fuelled her win off the back of 46 winners. “I really appreciated during the match people staying out so late to watch.
“I always try to play aggressively, Sloane is a great player, such a fighter, she moves super well, so I had to make sure I played aggressive.”
A disciplined start from Stephens caught the Russian off-guard, as the 25-year-old stormed 3-0 into the ascendancy with effortless power play.
After 21 minutes, Pavlyuchenkova was finally on the scoreboard, and the world No.44 clattered an inside-out forehand winner to apply the pressure. A fortunate netcord from a backhand provided the platform for Pavlyuchenkova to restore parity at 4-4 as the clock struck midnight.
A tiebreak was required, and Stephens wrestled away the initiative for 5-3 with a hooked forehand launching cross-court for 5-3, before a barrage of groundstrokes forced the pivotal errors from the Russian.
Stephens, a semifinalist at Melbourne Park in 2013, maintained the momentum to strike a piercing backhand cross-court past Pavlyuchenkova’s reach to consolidate a 2-0 break lead in the second set.
The last meeting between the pair was a three-hour marathon in Beijing, when Stephens prevailed in three sets, and Pavlyuchenkova steeled herself to take this match to its maximum.
The Russian, the 2006 and 2007 girls’ singles champion in Melbourne, reeled Stephens in with brave striking to clinch six of the next seven games to force a decider.
In an astonishing sequence of 26 rallies, Stephens fended off eight break points in a brutal 20-minute hold to start the final set. A backhand lasered down the line had the American’s team off their feet in celebration after a hold for 1-0, but Pavlyuchenkova was quickly in control.
The Russian, unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since Wimbledon 2015, raced 4-2 into the lead, and then broke to love.
Pavlyuchenkova couldn’t serve out the win, but utilised her destructive returns to edge into the quarterfinals.