World No. 241 Anastasia Gasanova chose tennis over figure skating when, at nine years old, she learned that judges would ultimately determine her fate on the ice. Now 21 and a qualifier at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy, Gasanova has been earning high marks all week and saved three match points to upset No. 5 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 1-6, 7-6(8), 7-6(4) to reach her first WTA quarterfinal.

“I didn’t expect that so many people would support me,” she said in her post-match press conference. “I think my opponent is more famous, so they probably liked her more, and I was very surprised.”

A fan of her teenaged countrywomen currently dominating the sport of figure skating, Gasanova began 2021 with a stunning win over former world No. 1 Karolina Pliskova. She backed up her three-hour, four-minute win over Katarina Zavatska on Wednesday to repeat the feat against Pavlyuchenkova 24 hours later on Sibur Arena.

Advertising

No. 241 Gasanova survives Pavlyuchenkova in St. Petersburg marathon

No. 241 Gasanova survives Pavlyuchenkova in St. Petersburg marathon

AP Images

“After Abu Dhabi, when I beat Pliskova, I didn’t do well at some simple ITF tournaments," she explained, "so this was a very important match for me. I just reminded myself to beat high level players.”

Pavlyuchenkova is a world No. 13 and a six-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist, but has struggled for consistency to start the 2021 season, winning back-to-back matches just once in her first six tournaments.

Still, the 29-year-old shook off an opening break to secure the next six, saving five break points in a titanic fifth game to serve out the first set of one of the week’s many all-Russian affairs with an ace.

Gasanova responded in much more impressive fashion, racing ahead 3-0 and then 5-2 before Pavlyuchenkova evened the proceedings in between saving a set point on her own serve.

“I’ve done so much work on mental toughness. I’ve read books about tennis and physical training, and that’s helped as well.”

Battling through a dramatic subsequent tie-break, the qualifier twisted her ankle and fell to the court as Pavlyuchenkova earned a pair of match points. Literally down, but not out, Gasanova outrallied the No. 5 seed on both match points and saved a third with a solid serve, forcing a final set with the help of some thrilling defense.

No. 241 Gasanova survives Pavlyuchenkova in St. Petersburg marathon

No. 241 Gasanova survives Pavlyuchenkova in St. Petersburg marathon

Advertising

Former World No. 10 Daria Kasatkina also advanced in a third-set tie-break. (AP Images)

Initially up a double break in the decider, Gasanova played a poor game when it came time to serve for the match, throwing down three double faults and missed out on a match point opportunity. Undaunted, she served her way to another tie-break and made no mistake in the Sudden Death that ensued, converting her third match point with a service winner to earn another career milestone.

“I’m feeling like I did everything today, and I’ll do all that I can to recover for tomorrow.”

Awaiting her in the next round will be ageless veteran Vera Zvonareva, a former world No. 2 whose Wednesday encounter with Fiona Ferro took six minutes longer than Gasanova’s win over Zavatska to reach her first WTA quarterfinal in two years.

Gasanova and Zvonareva are two of a guaranteed seven Russian quarterfinalists in St. Petersburg. Romanian qualifier Jacqueline Cristian is the only one who could prevent the Russian sweep by taking out No. 4 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in their quarterfinal clash on Friday.

Daria Kasatkina delivered a similarly epic thriller earlier in the day, surviving good friend Aliaksandra Sasnovich, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(2). Once a Top 10 player, Kasatkina captured her first WTA title in over two years at the Phillip Island Trophy at the end of the Australian swing, and will next face No. 2 seed and Abu Dhabi runner-up Veronika Kudermetova. Kudermetova won a marathon of her own against qualifier Kamilla Rakhimova, 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(5).

No. 241 Gasanova survives Pavlyuchenkova in St. Petersburg marathon

No. 241 Gasanova survives Pavlyuchenkova in St. Petersburg marathon