In her first Grand Slam as a top eight seed since the 2010 French Open, the versatile 31-year-old Svetlana Kuznetsova continues her journey at the Australian Open as she faces fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. This all-Russian derby will be the opening match of the day on Rod Laver Arena.
Kuznetsova will be vying for her first quarterfinal appearance here since 2013, her fourth overall. On the other side of the net, Pavlyuchenkova will be looking to make her quarterfinal debut in Melbourne and complete the feat of making the last eight at all four Grand Slams.
Everything changed for Kuznetsova in 2016, beginning with a title run in Sydney, a runner-up showing in Miami, last 16 appearances at the French Open and Wimbledon, a solid finish to the year where she defended her title in Moscow and also made the semifinals of Wuhan and the WTA Finals which saw her finish in top 10 for the first time since 2009, having begun the year ranked 25th.
The top-ranked Russian’s 2017 began with a run to the last eight in Brisbane. She however, failed to defend her title in Sydney, falling in the second round to the woman whom she meets next in Melbourne, Pavlyuchenkova. Kuznetsova kicked off her Melbourne campaign commandingly, dropping just four games in her victories over Colombia’s Mariana Duque-Mariño and Australian Jaimee Fourlis.
Kuznetsova passed her first significant test of the week in the following round where she clashed with fellow veteran and former world number one Jelena Jankovic. The eighth seed produced a hard-fought win in an epic encounter over the Serb, needing past three-and-a-half hours to see off the former world number one 6-4, 5-7, 9-7.
25-year-old Pavlyuchenkova has broken new ground here in Melbourne. The talented yet unpredictable Russian has never made it past the third round here before, winning back-to-back matches on just two occasions, 2011 and 2014. After falling at the first hurdle in her first tournament of the year in Auckland, she recorded a quarterfinal appearance in Sydney, defeating defending champion Kuznetsova en route, where she fell to Eugenie Bouchard. In Melbourne this week, she moved past a pair of Russians, Evgeniya Rodina and Natalia Vikhlyantseva, before upsetting 11th seed Elina Svitolina to reach the round of 16.
Pavlyuchenkova has enjoyed rather modest success at the Grand Slams for her a player of her capabilities. Since her Grand Slam debut at the 2007 Wimbledon Championships up till the end 2015, she has managed just two quarterfinal showings (French Open and US Open in 2011). She ended her five-year wait for another quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon last year where she was stopped by eventual champion Serena Williams.
Since her opening round loss to Lauren Davis in Melbourne last year, the Russian has recorded consecutive wins in her ensuing Grand Slam appearances. She reached the third round of the French Open and US Open, the last eight at Wimbledon and now the last 16 here in Melbourne. This marks the first time since the 2011 Australian Open where Pavlyuchenkova has won back-to-back matches in four successive Grand Slam appearances.
Kuznetsova holds a convincing 5-2 lead in the head-to-head against her younger Russian counterpart. Both women have met seven times prior in their careers, the first occurring all the way back in 2009 in the quarterfinals of the China Open which Kuznetsova won en route to claiming the title.
The older Russian then won a further two clashes in 2010 before Pavlyuchenkova finally broke the duck for the first time, coming out on top in Wuhan in 2015 with the loss of just one game. In their aforementioned encounter in Sydney last week, Pavlyuchenkova collected her second win over defending champion Kuznetsova with a score 7-5 6-3.
The younger Russian Pavlyuchenkova is no doubt in unfamiliar territory, her first second week appearance in Melbourne and for Kuznetsova, her eighth overall. Pavlyuchenkova was steady in her performances throughout the week here and the win over Svitolina, where she was the clear underdog, should give her boost of confidence going into this match-up. She plays a more powerful game of the pair and will need to bring out her best to score a second straight win over Kuznetsova.
Despite quietly progressing her earlier two matches unscathed, Kuznetsova will be the less fresh of the two after her grueling three-setter over Jankovic but the Russian’s sustained athleticism will no doubt be a huge factor in helping her cause to reach the quarterfinals in Melbourne. Pavlyuchenkova could start the match with a bang but the older Russian’s experience and commendable defense will see her through to the last eight, her first Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2014 French Open.
Prediction: Svetlana Kuznetsova in straight sets