2020 Australian Open: Pavlyuchenkova puts up clinical aggressive display, beats Kerber in thriller
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Angelique Kerber played out one of the best matches of the tournament | Photo: Mike Owen

In what could be the match of the highest quality this fortnight, 30th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova successfully pulled off a comeback victory over 17th seed and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber in a thrilling three-setter match to book a spot in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open.

Dominating baseline rallies and firing a massive 71 winners to just 36 unforced errors, Pavlyuchenkova was playing some lights-out tennis to beat the counterpunching Kerber, who played up to everyone’s standards for a set and a half before going down in three sets. 

After two-hours and 37-minutes played, it was Pavlyuchenkova who prevailed in the topsy-turvy match to reach the quarterfinals for the second consecutive year and thus defending her points after facing the pressure of a possible early exit earlier in the tournament. It was a good tournament for Kerber as well, putting up several strong performances to beat a couple of quality opponents and make yet another second-week appearance in Melbourne.

Pavlyuchenkova and Kerber meet at the net for a nice exchange after the net | Photo: Mike Owen
Pavlyuchenkova and Kerber meet at the net for a nice exchange after the net | Photo: Mike Owen

Pavlyuchenkova is in her sixth Major quarterfinal but will be looking to progress into her first Grand Slam semifinal, going up against former world number one Garbine Muguruza in her next match.

Kerber digs deep to grab the first set

Kerber found herself in deep trouble early on, facing break points in multiple service games as Pavlyuchenkova came out of the blocks firing on all cylinders. However, with the German looking flawless behind her first serves, she survived the opening game but found no opportunities on the return with Pavlyuchenkova proving to be too solid.

The Russian grabbed the break in the third game, earning the advantage with a clean forehand winner as she was clearly the aggressor on the court despite Kerber’s attempts at being more aggressive. A double-fault sandwiched between four winners saw Pavlyuchenkova consolidating the break with ease, extending her lead to 3-1.

Being overpowered by her opponent, Kerber was helplessly trapped in another tricky situation as she could not stop Pavlyuchenkova from hitting winners, going down a double-break deficit after just 30 minutes of action. However, from there, the momentum quickly shifted hands as Kerber finally found the rhythm in her counterpunching game.

Three quick games came and went, all going the way of Kerber as the Russian blinked at the sight of the finishing line. Having to save another break point, the German kept her run going at four consecutive games and forced Pavlyuchenkova to serve to stay in the set.

Angelique Kerber battled to take the opening set 7-6 | Photo: Fred Lee
Angelique Kerber battled to take the opening set 7-6 | Photo: Fred Lee

Facing the pressure of the scoreboard, Pavlyuchenkova blasted four consecutive winners to bring the first set into a tiebreak. She started the tiebreak with three winners on the trot to open a quick 3-0 lead but was quickly pegged back as Kerber’s counterpunching game was too difficult to break down. A fantastic backhand winner down-the-line ultimately completed the huge comeback for Kerber, taking the tiebreak 7-5 with the clock one minute away from hitting the hour mark.

Pavlyuchenkova fights back for a decider

Pavlyuchenkova did well to overcome the disappointment of losing the first set, but both players underperformed while returning as no break point opportunities surfaced in the first nine games of the second set. Kerber had a mini-opening in the seventh game with a 0-30 lead, but Pavlyuchenkova came out swinging to survive another tricky situation.

Serving to stay in the set at 4-5 down, Kerber’s first serves abandoned her and left her facing two set points out of nowhere. However, Pavlyuchenkova was too passive on the crucial points and the German found her first serves at critical moments, saving both set points with overhead winners to level the scores. Some brave tennis from the former world number one saw her saving another set point in the twelveth game, bringing the match into yet another tiebreak.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was in impressive form | Photo: Mike Owen
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was in impressive form | Photo: Mike Owen

Opening up an early lead, Pavlyuchenkova held onto her advantage tightly as she withstood the pressure to seal the second set with a clean backhand winner, sending the match into a deciding set.

Pavlyuchenkova strolls to get the win

The intensity from Kerber visibly dipped after returning from a bathroom break, getting broken in the opening game of the decider as Pavlyuchenkova continued to produce winners from all corners of the court, her first break of serve since the middle of the first set. The 2016 champion seemed to be struggling with her movement and service motion, hinting at a possible injury, and quickly went down a double-break after two double-faults in one game.

Hitting bigger than previously, Kerber went all out on her shots and came out of nowhere to retrieve a break, minimizing the deficit to just two games but Pavlyuchenkova was too solid and clinched eight of the last 10 points, closing out the match with her 71st winner of the match.