After a disappointing start to the year, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova finally started to show glimpses of her vintage form as she clinched just her fourth win of 2018, this time coming over world number 14 Madison Keys in a blockbuster opening-round clash at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, where the cut-off ranking was at a mere 29 which allowed for such thrilling contests to occur early in the tournament. Even though this was just the Russian’s fourth win of the year, it came against a top-20 player for the second occasion, and now sets up another mouth-watering clash with world number two Garbine Muguruza in the second round.
Even though Keys managed to blast 53 winners and just 36 unforced errors, she was unable to clinch the victory as Pavlyuchenkova remained more mentally composed at the crucial moments, firing 34 winners compared to 35 errors. The statistics could be deceitful but the players were hard to be separated throughout the encounter, with the Russian eventually winning just one more point during the match.
Pavlyuchenkova edges titanic first set
It was a thrilling opening game to begin the match, with Pavlyuchenkova returning extremely well as Keys struggled behind her first serves. The fans were treated to a show between aggression and variety, and the Russian prevailed in the marathon first game having converted on her fifth break point, with Keys sending a drop shot straight into the net. Dictating play with her powerful play, Pavlyuchenkova easily consolidated the break to love and opened up an early 2-0 lead.
A string of comfortable service holds followed for both players, before Pavlyuchenkova committed a slew of unforced errors and threw away her lead, allowing Keys to return level on the scoreboard. The Russian earned triple break points in the ninth game, but the American stunningly returned to grab the pivotal service hold, holding for a narrow 5-4 lead.
Pavlyuchenkova produced an even bigger escape, fending off multiple set points as she showed nerves of steel and ultimately sent the set into a tiebreak. Both players dominated their service points while Keys earned her third set point of the afternoon, though the world number 27 prevailed in a lengthy rally to remain in contention. The pressure started to affect Keys, who threw in a double-fault to gift Pavlyuchenkova the marathon first set after 63 minutes.
Keys fights back, sends the match into a decider
Everything seemed to be going Pavlyuchenkova’s way after the lower-ranked Russian took a set and a break lead with some inspired play. Nonetheless, the American kept herself relevant on the scoreboard, coming up with an immediate reply as Pavlyuchenkova lost the momentum on her serve, allowing Keys to break back and having struggled through the following games as well.
Keys started giving Pavlyuchenkova a taste of her own medicine, adding drop shots into her game and moving her opponent all around the court. A stunning backhand winner finally sealed the breakthrough for the US Open finalist, though she faced break points while serving out the set. However, the Russian became too passive on the important points, and it backfired as Keys leveled the match with another big forehand on her second set point.
Pavlyuchenkova overcomes nerves, takes the impressive win
It was an impressive escape from Pavlyuchenkova in the opening game of the final set, digging herself out of a troubling 0-40 hole as the underdog gained confidence through this tough hold. Returning exceptionally well, it was all the Russian’s business as Keys could not play her usual aggressive tennis, allowing her opponent to draw the first blood. Unexpectedly, Keys rebounded from her disappointment quickly, breaking straight back to get on board in the decider.
A slew of service games followed, with both Keys and Pavlyuchenkova having to slug through tough moments with the pressure weighing on their shoulders. Serving to stay in the match at 4-5 down, the American committed an abundance of unforced errors, with Pavlyuchenkova eventually earning the excellent win after two hours and 45-minutes of play.