WTA Tokyo: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ousts Angelique Kerber in thriller

Despite looking on course for a straightforward win, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had to make it complicated before defeating Angelique Kerber in the semifinals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open, prevailing in three tight sets.

WTA Tokyo: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova ousts Angelique Kerber in thriller
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrates her hard-fought win | Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
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Angelique Kerber

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Angelique Kerber played out a thriller in the semifinals of the Toray Pan Pacific Open as the Russian claimed her second win over the former world number one this year having came from 0-3 down in the final set to do so, despite missing a golden opportunity to close out the match in the second set.

It was a shocker when Pavlyuchenkova clinched the first set 6-0 after just 20 minutes, and she almost won nine games in a row before Kerber showed some life and started to mount a comeback. Seemingly affected by a left arm injury, the German showed some great fighting spirit when she took the second set, coming from 0-6, 2-5 down to do so, and opened up a huge 3-0 lead in the decider. '

However, a huge momentum shift saw the Russian eventually earn the hard-fought win in three sets, reflecting her tough mentality as she was down-and-out just 20 minutes before the conclusion of the encounter.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova exclaims after match point | Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova exclaims after match point | Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac

Pavlyuchenkova cruises to the first set

Pavlyuchenkova started the match serving in the opening game, and without a doubt, there would surely be some early jitters for the Russian. Some great forehands from Kerber allowed her to absorb the tremendous amount of power on Pavlyuchenkova’s groundstrokes, earning two break points in the first game. The former world number one got herself into all kinds of troubles early on when the Russian was just too good at the baseline, turning defense into offense to convert her first break point with a wonderful forehand down-the-line winner to earn the first breakthrough.

Pavlyuchenkova was booming with confidence having saved a break point and broke in the following game for the 2-0 lead, and looked extremely comfortable on the court as she was just firing on all cylinders. Hitting a well-placed lob winner, the Russian easily consolidated the break and soared ahead on the scoreboard.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova hits a forehand | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova hits a forehand | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac

Although Kerber seemed to have found some of her rhythm on her usually-reliable forehands, Pavlyuchenkova remained composed and broke once more to extend her lead. Playing some absolutely flawless tennis, Pavlyuchenkova eventually closed out the first set with a powerful forehand winner, taking it in a bagel scoreline after just a mere 20 minutes of play.

Pavlyuchenkova continues to stroll

Carrying over the momentum into the second set, Pavlyuchenkova had a solid service hold in the opening game as she looked in a hurry to close out the match. The huge returns kept coming in from the Russian as Kerber found no answers to the unusually-consistent play from the underdog, going down a break in the early stages.

Angelique Kerber hits a backhand | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac
Angelique Kerber hits a backhand | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac

Pavlyuchenkova looked to have sealed a ninth consecutive game when she went up 6-0, 2-0, 40-0. However, that was the pivotal moment of the match as the Russian lost her focus and composure, gifting Kerber five straight points as she allowed the former world number one to get onto the scoreboard for the first time in the morning. A medical time-out followed as Kerber requested for medical assistance for a possible left arm injury, which could have explained the scoreline.

Kerber comes back from huge deficit and forces a decider

Pavlyuchenkova had the golden opportunity to regain her lead but wasted a break point as Kerber stood firm to hold her serve for the first time in the match, leveling the scores and looked to mount the improbable comeback. The German earned a break point in the fifth game with the huge chance to earning the lead but Pavlyuchenkova showed some nerves of steel to narrowly hold her serve and remain on serve, with this tight service game proving crucial for the Russian.

Angelique Kerber was visibly frustrated with herself today | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac
Angelique Kerber was visibly frustrated with herself today | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac

Another marathon game followed when Kerber had to save an incredible four break points before succumbing to the solid groundstrokes of Pavlyuchenkova, who was fifth-time lucky and regained the lead after prevailing in the 20-points game. Consolidating the break, the Russian edged closer than ever to the win as she opened up a 5-2 lead, being just one game away from a spot in the final.

However, untimely unforced errors proved to be costly for Pavlyuchenkova as she threw in two double-faults while serving for the match, allowing Kerber to break back out of nowhere and return on serve. Within a blink of an eye, the German looked to be having all the momentum having won three straight games to leave the match wide open once more.

Angelique Kerber hits a forehand | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac
Angelique Kerber hits a forehand | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac

There seemed to be yet another momentum shift in place for us, after Pavlyuchenkova earned an incredibly important service hold in the 11th game, triumphing in her eight-minute service hold for a 6-5 lead having saved a break point in the nervy game. The set soon proceeded into a tiebreak as Kerber had yet another comfortable service hold, with Pavlyuchenkova unable to find an answer to Kerber’s lefty serves. From trailing by a mini-break at 3-4, Kerber stormed to claim four consecutive points as she came out of nowhere to steal the marathon second set in a tiebreak.

Kerber powers herself to a 3-0 lead

With all the momentum running in her, Kerber was full of confidence while Pavlyuchenkova completely lost the plot, having no rhythm at all. The German’s groundstrokes were more solid than ever, and she seemed to have the match sealed in her hands after powering to a formidable 3-0 lead within a blink of an eye, conceding only one solitary point in the process.

Angelique Kerber celebrates winning the second set with a fistpump | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac
Angelique Kerber celebrates winning the second set with a fist pump | Photo: Matt Roberts/Getty Images AsiaPac

Pavlyuchenkova fights back to get the win

Unexpectedly, a changeover was enough to help Pavlyuchenkova regain her composure as she stormed to a love service hold to get onto the scoreboard in the final set, lessening the deficit. Other than the third game of the second set, this game was the trigger factor which decided the winner of the match as Kerber lost focus from then on, allowing the Russian to break back out of nowhere and return on serve.

Everything seemed to be going Pavlyuchenkova’s way when she won her fourth straight game to take the lead despite being down-and-out just around 15 minutes ago. Some clinical shots at the net allowed the underdog to break serve for the second time in a row, taking the 4-3 lead and found herself having the momentum all of a sudden. Despite Kerber’s toughest efforts, Pavlyuchenkova eventually served out the match without a hitch, unlike the second set, holding her serve comfortably for the tough three-set win after two hours and 10 minutes of play.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrates after match point | Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova celebrates after match point | Photo: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images AsiaPac