Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Sloane Stephens played out an absolute thriller in the night session match at the 2018 China Open. Stephens has been struggling for form since the start of the Asian Swing, going 0-2 in her first matches.
Whereas, Pavlyuchenkova has been showing some sort of a resurgence after a difficult season; reaching the second round in Tokyo where she had match points against Caroline Garcia before defeating Petra Kvitova en route to the quarterfinals in Wuhan.
On paper, Stephens had the higher ranking but Pavlyuchenkova had the better form. Nonetheless, the American managed to dig through for her first win in Asia since 2015, producing an excellent comeback to triumph 6-7, 6-4, 6-4 against the Russian.
Although Pavlyuchenkova managed to win more points than her higher-ranked opponent, Stephens won the more important points as the American surged to the excellent win after blasting 38 winners to 37 unforced errors.
Pavlyuchenkova edges the tight first set
The Russian started well and jumped out to a quick 3-1 lead having made the better start; looking quick and powerful on the court. She was firing winners at her own will but Stephens slowly found her groove and returned level on the scoreboard.
It was a set full of missed opportunities for the Russian, who had break points in four of six return games but only managed to convert one. Four set points came and went for the American while Pavlyuchenkova astonishingly lost a 6-1 lead in the tiebreak, but rebounded to claim it 10-8 after what seemed like an eternity.
Stephens fights back in style
Leading by a set and earning break points to take the lead in the second set, Pavlyuchenkova blew the golden opportunity to extend her advantage. She started to produce costly errors at untimely moments Stephens found her way back — escaping from the brink and rattling off four consecutive games to take a commanding 5-2 lead.
Although a medical time-out seemed to have pushed the momentum towards Pavlyuchenkova, the world number nine closed out the second set 6-4; but not without any complications as there was some heated verbal exchange between both players at the net due to an argument about the medical time-out. Stephens failed to remain composed after the lengthy medical time-out but quickly found her shots as she fended off a break point while attempting to serve out the set for the second time.
Stephens claims the win
Gaining the rhythm, Stephens played with confidence while Pavlyuchenkova gradually faded away with her array of unforced errors. She jumped out towards a formidable 3-0 double-break advantage in a flash, and Pavlyuchenkova was only able to recover one of those breaks through the remainder of the match.
Stephens held onto her lead tightly and found herself in the perfect position to serve out the match at 5-4 up. She quickly went up 40-0, and although she went for too much on her first chances. The Russian sent a return long and Stephens was third-time lucky, grabbing the confidence-boosting victory, which is her first win in Asia since 2015.