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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova roars into maiden major semifinal in Paris
The No. 31 seed rallied to defeat an inspired Elena Rybakina in a 9-7 final set.
Published Jun 08, 2021
WATCH: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova after outlasting Elena Rybakina in three grueling sets at Roland Garros.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is, at long last, a Grand Slam semifinalist. The No. 31 seed reversed a one-set deficit to end doubles partner Elena Rybakina's giant-killing run, 6-7 (2), 7-2, 9-7 at Roland Garros.
"I'm a bit out of emotions right now," a speechless Pavlyuchenkova said after the match. "I guess I need a little bit more time. Probably later tonight I'll realize that. I mean, I'm very happy with the win. It was unreal match today."
A junior phenom who famously burst onto the tennis scene with a run to the 2009 BNP Paribas Open semifinals, Pavlyuchenkova was last a quarterfinalist in Paris as a teenager in 2011. Up against defending champion Francesca Schiavone, she led the Italian by a set and two breaks only to falter in the third, and went on to lose a total of 11 Grand Slam quarterfinals across singles and doubles.
After building a strong clay-court season with a run to the Mutua Madrid Open semifinals, that streak came to an emphatic end on Tuesday. Making no mistakes in the match’s most critical moments, the 29-year-old survived in two hours and 33 minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.
Seeded No. 21, Rybakina amassed a whopping 21 match wins in the first two months of 2020, winning the Hobart International along with back-to-back WTA 500 (then Premier) finals in St. Petersburg and Dubai.
Though she reached another final in Strasbourg after the COVID-19 lockdown, the Russian-born Kazakh was undeniably derailed by the interruption to the schedule, compiling an 8-6 record between August and October of that year.
She started 2021 by reaching a quarterfinal in Abu Dhabi but wouldn’t win back-to-back matches again until she arrived in Paris, where her big game has recalibrated in a major way. Into her first Grand Slam fourth round without dropping a set, she snapped a four-match losing streak against Top 10 opposition to stun 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, 6-3, 7-5.
"It's really good tournament for me, because it was my goal to reach second week and I did it," Rybakina said. "I played well with Serena. I guess I cannot jump over my head, so it's fine."
The 21-year-old continued that momentum early on against Pavlyuchenkova, clocking 11 winners in the first five games to race ahead, 4-1.
No stranger to a comeback, Pavlyuchenkova, who rallied from a set down to defeat former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the fourth round on Sunday, promptly leveled the at four games apiece as a tiebreaker loomed.
Rybakina responded by taking another big lead in the Sudden Death, winning the first five points before ultimately closing out the opening set in just under an hour.
A marathon sixth game of the second set took a dramatic turn when Pavlyuchenkova tripped as she threw up a lob on break point; unable to capitalize on the Russian’s compromised position, Rybakina netted the subsequent overhead. The Russian reeled off a total of six straight games to force a final set.
"The way she started, it didn't surprise me because obviously I have watched her matches before, the previous match, and we practiced a lot. So I kind of expected it could happen," Pavlyuchenkova said, "like she would just serve bombs and play hard, so I'd have no chance there.
"The only thing you can do is hang in there. That's what I did. I believed in my chances. I believed in my game overall. You know, I know I'm a fighter, so I will fight till the end. That's what I did."
Trailing the No. 31 seed by a break early in the decider, Rybakina turned the tables with a three-game run of her own and the two appeared poised to go extra innings—much as Tamara Zidansek did in the first quarterfinal of the day against Paula Badosa.
Unrelenting on serve, Pavlyuchenkova made her move as Rybakina served to stay in the match, engineering her first match point with her 44th winner of the day. Under extreme pressure, Rybakina responded with an ill-timed sixth double fault to send Pavlyuchenkova through to the semis.
Standing between her and a first-ever Grand Slam final is Zidansek, who overcame an in-form Badosa to become the first from Slovenia to make it this far at a major tournament.