WATCH: Pavlyuchenkova talks through her runner-up finish at Roland Garros.

Advertising

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova exudes chill. The Russian takes a seat after a decisive second-round Wimbledon win over Kristyna Pliskova in an oversized sweatshirt awash in blue and turquoise, an assuredly unconscious nod to the career wave she’s currently riding.

“Oh, I don’t think about that at all,” she chuckles when asked to think of the media storm likely headed her way after reaching the Roland Garros final. “That’s obviously not my priority or goal. Those things come with matches and results, but it’s not something I really think about.”

Her thoughts have instead fixated on the All England Club—specifically the grass courts that have been her nemesis since even her halcyon junior days. The same year she reached three of the four Grand Slam girls’ finals, she stumbled at Wimbledon’s first hurdle.

“I think it was all mental,” she muses in retrospect. “I would get in my head about trying to change my game or do something different. I was thinking I needed to be more aggressive but on such an extreme level where I needed to be a completely different player on the court, just because it’s grass. Now I’m just trying to play my game and not focus so much on the surface.”

Pavlyuchenkova is in hot pursuit of a second Wimbledon quarterfinal, her first since 2016 (AP).

Pavlyuchenkova is in hot pursuit of a second Wimbledon quarterfinal, her first since 2016 (AP).

Simple logic, but Pavlyuchenkova is no stranger to the scenic route through a career full of promise and—for a time—unfulfilled potential. It all came together for the Russian this spring when she parlayed a Mutua Madrid Open semifinal into a full-circle breakthrough in Paris.

In the decade between fateful French Open quarterfinal appearances, Pavlyuchenkova has become a cult figure in tennis, combining aesthetic baseline power with an off-beat Instagram persona that captures her style and sense of humor.

There’s little sentimentality from the sentimental favorite, who writes a reflexive “Meow!” on the camera in lieu of her signature and, during her Roland Garros runner-up speech, joked that her friends cheering on Court Philippe Chatrier likely feared she would never make it that far at a major again. There’s no maudlin emotionality to mine, least of all from the dadaist Tik Tok she made to commemorate the star-making fortnight.

Through a sometimes-blurry Zoom lens, Pavlyuchenkova is the picture of cool, calm, relief.

Advertising

“A result like that could have given me something inside, but I’m also working hard every day to bring it out on the court. I really try to take every match as a new match. I want to come into each one with a fresh energy and fighting spirit. At the same time, I do feel a little bit stronger, more confident and consistent within myself.”

That consistency has been in full effect through a pair of straight-set wins at SW19 (6-2, 6-2 over Ana Bogdan, and 6-3, 6-3 over Kristyna Pliskova)—her best result on grass since she reached the quarterfinals in 2016, and one made more impressive given the two-week turnaround from her terre battue defeat to Barbora Krejcikova.

“I got a chance to go home for a couple of days, but it was more about recharging and recovering than having big celebrations. Of course, I did celebrate with my close friends and family, but at the same time I knew I had to stay focused for Wimbledon. That was pretty tough because I was really tired: emotionally, physically, and mentally. I was already thinking about that transition from the moment I got home, wanting to make it as quickly as possible.”

While embracing this new phase of her career, the Russian remains very much herself. She played in Madrid sporting a leopard-spotted top, and later went viral when she spent a medical timeout munching on gummy bears. At the time, Judy Murray called them a source of instant energy on Twitter and Pavlyuchenkova agrees—particularly the red ones.

“I love candies like these, because they not only give you that bit of sugar you need for the end of the match, but it also gives me something to chew on.”

I want to come into each [match] with a fresh energy and fighting spirit. At the same time, I do feel a little bit stronger, more confident and consistent within myself. A result like that could have given me something inside, but I’m also working hard every day to bring it out on the court. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Advertising

Watching the ostensible absurdity unfold was former No. 1 and countrywoman Maria Sharapova, who offered her own confectionary services over social media.

“It was supposed to be a surprise for Wimbledon,” sighs Pavlyuchenkova. “She did send me some Sugarpova stuff, but it got lost and it’s still a mystery because it got lost in the hotel. They normally deliver packages to my room but I never received it. We don’t know what happened or who picked it up, so it’s a shame.

“We actually did have a laugh about it; I texted her to say thank you for her message and the surprise she’d planned for me. It could have been a nice moment and I definitely would have brought them on court, but maybe next time.”

So, no strawberries-and-cream gummies for the Russian at Wimbledon. In between preparations for what would be just her second appearance in the fourth round, she’ll have to settle for the real thing.

“I’ve always liked this tournament,” she says, despite the surface, “because of how special it is, and how it manages to maintain all of their traditions makes them stand out compared with the other major tournaments. You’ve got your strawberries and cream and other signatures like this that make the event special.”

Once seemingly content to live a relaxed life on tour, the soon-to-be 30-year-old always insisted she was in search of the spotlight. Now that she has it, who knows when she’ll let it go?