Brisbane: S. Williams d. Pavlyuchenkova
For four games, it looked like a match, potentially a very good match. It’s hard to remember now, but both Serena Williams and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova came out firing the ball in their final in Brisbane today. They split the first four points, all on winners, and each of them closed out their service games with aces. Williams powered through all of her strokes as expected, but Pavlyuchenkova stood her ground at the other baseline and powered them right back. At one point, she even forced Serena to go to her left hand, Sharapova-style, to retrieve a ball. It all looked a little improbable from the Russian’s perspective. She’s talented, but were her hands really that fast?
They weren’t, it turned out. The first cracks in Pavs’ armor showed at 2-3, and they only grew wider from there. In that game, Williams hit three solid forehand returns, and the Russian threw in a double fault. Serena had her break, and Anastasia never got close to breaking her back—Williams lost just eight points on her serve over the course of what would be a 51-minute, 6-2, 6-1 win for her 47th career title, and first of what could be many more this season. Serena hit aces to each corner and winners with ease. To say it was “convincing” would be the understatement of the season thus far.
Pavlyuchenkova’s last and only chance came when she saved two break points at 0-1 in the second set. Serena looked a little tight on a netted forehand, but she came right back to win the game with a nicely anticipated forehand angle volley—even Serena looked impressed with herself after that one. In the next game, Pavlyuchenkova came back from 30-0 down to 30-30 on Williams’s serve, but she shanked an easy backhand off a second ball and was never in the match again. She’s now 0-4 against Serena. It's better to be able to move, rather than just hit, when you face the American. Pavs will always be a hitter first.
Still, with her wins over Angelique Kerber and Petra Kvitova, this was a strong week for Pavlyuchenkova, a former No. 1 junior with a big game who has struggled mightily to live up to her potential. She looks fitter, and her consistency has improved, but there wasn’t a whole lot she could have done tonight. Williams hit winners seemingly without risk, and was lethal and efficient in equal measures. But the most interesting stat to me was her first serve percentage: 55. That’s not even that great.
"Not even that great": You never would have known it from watching.