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.
“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.
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).