World number one Simona Halep returned to action in the toughest possible way after showing some kind of rustiness in the early stages but rebounded to defeat the dangerous and unseeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in her opening round match of the 2018 Rogers Cup. The Romanian needed a marathon three-hours and seven minutes of play to oust the Russian after coming from a break down in the final set to claim the huge win.
Pavlyuchenkova had her chances in the decider after earning a break point for a double-break advantage but Halep came roaring back into contention, benefitting from Pavlyuchenkova’s 65 unforced errors throughout the match to triumph. In the match affected by the rain delay, Halep trailed on the first day of play but came out firing on the second day, setting up a blockbuster meeting with Venus Williams in the third round.
Halep edges the close first set
Halep elected to start the match receiving, and even though Pavlyuchenkova faced the pressure of serving first, she handled it well. Overcoming some early nerves, it was the Russian who hit an ace on game point to close out the game and sent an asserting message across the court to the world number one. Halep was relatively erratic and experienced a slow start, with this being her first match since her Wimbledon third-round exit. Errors came from both players but it was Pavlyuchenkova who was playing more solid and explosive, earning the first break for a 2-0 lead.
However, that simply marked the start of a four-break streak for both players as they exchanged service breaks in quick fashion. Neither of them was able to find the consistency on serve, but the streak was stopped when Halep confidently held for 3-3. Just when Halep seemed to have restored order, Pavlyuchenkova put in an important and confident hold for a 4-3 lead just before the rain ended play for the night.
The second day of play saw Halep coming out of the blocks firing, looking invincible on serve while Pavlyuchenkova failed to convert her chances as the Romanian saved three game points to earn the timely break for a 6-5 lead, alongside the chance to serve out the set. However, Pavlyuchenkova came out of nowhere and strung together some impressive winners, sending the set into a tiebreak.
The tiebreak was simply a classic — Pavlyuchenkova saved four set points with some unbelievable and daring winners while Halep benefitted from her opponent’s nerves to save one of her own as well. Eventually, it was the clutch world number one who grabbed the opening set tiebreak 11-9 after a marathon 76 minutes of play.
Pavlyuchenkova fights back for a decider
Just when almost everyone thought that Halep would run off with the momentum running in her, Pavlyuchenkova was determined to prove us wrong as the Russian impressively stayed in contention despite the disappointment from the first set. Pavlyuchenkova came out of nowhere and defied the odds to fend off multiple break points in the fourth game, keeping herself alive in the encounter.
Opportunities came and went for both players — a total of five break points surfaced but neither was able to convert their chances. Serving at 4-4, Halep put in a loose service game which ultimately proved costly. Three unforced errors seemed prominent, but the most crucial one was a double-fault at 30-40 which allowed Pavlyuchenkova to draw the first blood and make the first breakthrough. The Russian eventually became more aggressive than ever, grabbing the second set after a huge tussle.
Halep narrowly escapes from the brink
Pavlyuchenkova enters the deciding set as the slight favourite to triumph — and she cemented her position after an erratic opening game saw Halep throwing away her serve once more. Everything was going the Russian’s way and she consolidated the break for a 2-0 lead before earning the golden opportunity to earn a double-break advantage. However, that was the turning point as a simple second-serve return error proved to be the match-changing point.
Halep was able to recover mentally and snatched three consecutive games from 2-4 down, but Pavlyuchenkova was able to extend the set into an 11th game despite the loss of her lead. Serving to stay in the match at 5-6 down, the Russian felt the nerves and her game crumbled there — sending a backhand straight into the net on match point which allowed Halep to celebrate her tough yet impressive win.