The 24th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s fairytale Australian Open campaign continues as she now aims towards a Grand Slam semifinal debut. The Russian takes on former world number one, the 13th Venus Williams, in a tantalizing quarterfinal encounter. This match is scheduled first on Rod Laver Arena.
Williams is in her second quarterfinal appearance in as many as three visits to Melbourne and will be vying to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the second year running, also her first here since 2001. The American has also yet to drop a set all tournament.
Williams only had one win under belt for the season coming into Melbourne. The seven-time Grand Slam winner was forced to withdraw from her second round match in Auckland, where she was to face Naomi Osaka, with an arm injury. After suffering an upset in the hands of Johanna Konta in the first round last year, Williams looked to avoid another early exit in Melbourne when she faced Kateryna Kozlova in the first round and did so by defeating the Ukrainian in a tight straight-setter.
The American’s following match saw her see off Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele and come the third round, she was the sole seed remaining in her eighth, with the likes of fourth seed Simona Halep, 19th seed Kiki Bertens and Olympic champion, the 29th seed Monica Puig, all eliminated before the second round. Williams did not face much trouble in her third round encounter against China’s Duan Ying-Ying, dropping just a game en route to victory.
Facing German qualifier Mona Barthel in the last 16, one of the tournament’s surprise packages this year. The German was in her first ever round of 16 appearance at a Grand Slam and Williams was ruthless, cruising into the last eight with a 6-3, 7-5 win, her ninth quarterfinal overall in Melbourne.
This will be an Australian Open for Pavlyuchenkova to remember. The 25-year-old Russian entered this year’s edition with a negative tournament win-loss record. Moreover, her prior best results in Melbourne were just third round finishes in 2011 and 2014. In her other six appearances, she managed no more than one win under her belt in two instances and left the tournament winless six times.
Pavlyuchenkova’s road to the last eight saw her face three fellow Russians and a Ukrainian. She moved past Evgeniya Rodina in the first hurdle and then went on to beat Natalia Vikhlyantseva, both in straight sets. Facing Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in the third round, she dropped her only set of the tournament thus far against the 11th seed but prevailed for her first round of 16 appearance in Melbourne.
In the last 16, Pavlyuchenkova faced top-ranked compatriot and eighth seed Svetlana Kuznetsova. Having won their prior encounter in Sydney last week, Pavlyuchenkova backed it up with another stellar performance to see off Kuznetsova 6-3, 6-3 and books her place in her first Australian Open quarterfinal, completing the feat of reaching the quarterfinals of all four Grand Slams in the process.
The head-to-head between both women stands at 3-2 with Williams holding to the lead. All of their five prior matchups have taken place on hardcourts and this upcoming one will be no different.
Williams won their first encounter back in 2009 in Dubai, allowing Pavlyuchenkova just one game. The Russian went on to win their next two clashes in Tokyo and Beijing, also in 2009. Williams then exacted revenge the following year in Dubai to level the head-to-head before regaining the lead once again in 2014 when she won their second round match in Montreal.
Both women possess powerful groundstrokes though Williams has the greater consistency of the pair. Pavlyuchenkova continues to break new ground here in Melbourne and showed no nerves in her win over Kuznetsova. It will not be a surprise to see the Russian carry on with her game that has been clicking all week. However, her prior three Grand Slam quarterfinal losses came in the hands of Serena Williams and Francesca Schiavone, twice to the former. Going up against an opposition of similar caliber in the experienced Venus Williams, it will be a huge test for the Russian.
Williams has played several dozens of quarterfinals at Grand Slam events, hence the American should be the more composed of the two but she should still be wary of the threat Pavlyuchenkova poses. In the end, all the odds seem to be pointing heavily in the American’s favor, who is the hot favorite to advance to the last four here, for the first time in more than fifteen years and she should do so without many complications.
Prediction: Venus Williams in straight sets