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Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova returns to Roland Garros quarterfinals with milestone Azarenka upset
The No. 31 seed advanced to the last eight in Paris for the first time in a decade, rallying from a set down to shock nemesis Victoria Azarenka.
Published Jun 07, 2021
WATCH: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova rallies from a set down to defeat former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova is enjoying a full-circle moment at Roland Garros, returning to the last eight for the first time in a decade by overcoming former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.
The No. 31 seed had never before beaten Azarenka in a completed match—advancing once via retirement—and held off multiple surges from her Belarusian rival to secure the milestone victory and reach a seventh career Grand Slam quarterfinal in two hours and nine minutes on Court Philippe Chatrier.
That 2011 quarterfinal has long been a sliding doors moment for Pavluyuchenkova, who led defending champion Francesca Schiavone by a whopping 6-1, 4-1 before the Italian upended the then-teenager en route to a second straight final.
"I'm kind of in the present," she said of her growth in the decade since. "Before I was like, 'Oh, my God, quarterfinal. Oh, what's happening?' When I was actually playing quarterfinal, I was so emotional. I will never forget that match...I was just so in the emotions. I was like everywhere. I was too young. I didn't know how to handle it."
Now 29 years old, the Russian is in the midst of a career renaissance after reaching the semifinals of the Mutua Madrid Open and avenging that Caja Magica loss to Aryna Sabalenka here in Paris.
“I know it's a cliché, I was the first one to laugh at this,” she said after shocking the No. 3 seed on Friday. “Players would say, ‘I'm going to go and enjoy out there.’ I'm there like, ‘Yeah, right. Go enjoy, of course, good luck.’
“Now I actually do that…I'm trying to embrace this. I'm enjoying much more now every point the tough matches than I used to before. I guess that also the reason why I'm still here in the second week.”
It was surely harder to enjoy as Azarenka, herself looking for a first Roland Garros quarterfinal since 2013, reversed a 3-1 deficit in the opening set and won six of the next eight games over Pavlyuchenkova, who last made it that far at a major at the 2020 Australian Open.
Losing an identical lead in the second, the former world No. 13 tightened up her game to impressive effect, allowing just four unforced errors as she leveled the match off a loose shot from Azarenka.
Players would say, ‘I'm going to go and enjoy out there.’ I'm there like, ‘Yeah, right. Go enjoy, of course, good luck.’ Now I actually do that…I'm trying to embrace this.
With Pavlyuchenkova standing at an even 22-22 in Grand Slam three-setters, odds appeared increasingly in favor of the two-time Australian Open champion as the pair exchanged breaks early in the decider.
The Russian nevertheless persisted with some impeccable clean tennis in the face of Azarenka’s lilting form as she reeled off the final five games of the match.
In all, Pavlyuchenkova struck a scintillating 45 winners to just 27 unforced errors while converting eight of 15 break point opportunities. Hitting far fewer winners and three more errors, Azarenka can take heart in a solid week in Paris after illness and back injuries have largely hampered her 2021 season, but will be undoubtedly rue the break point chances she missed in the pivotal sixth game of the final set.
Pavlyuchenkova thanks brother Aleksandr, who has been working as her coach, for his support in the stands.
"My brother is there with me on discipline as well on the court. We work on some particular stuff, tactical as well. He's there behind me every practice, pushing me quite hard.
"It's just trying to learn new habits, I guess, working harder, trying to enjoy the process as well and believing in that, too."
She went on to delighted the Chatrier crowd by conducting her on-court interview with Marion Bartoli entirely in French—a nod to the years she’s spent training in Paris.
"It's funny because when I was a set down, at the beginning of the second I was looking at my shoes, at the clay. I was thinking, 'I hate clay so much. What I'm even doing here in Paris?' I was saying this to myself!
"But now I won and I really love this tournament and I love clay. So, you know, it's always like this. Of course I like this event a lot. It's very special to me. Also, yeah, I actually like clay!"
But she’ll likely face an even greater challenge than simple conjugation in her next match, as Serena Williams (whom she trails 0-6 in their head-to-head) will be her opponent provided the 23-time Grand Slam champion gets past in-form Kazakh Elena Rybakina later on Sunday.