MONTERREY, México - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova kept calm and carried on in the semifinals of the Monterrey Open on Saturday, dropping the first set but going right to work from there to beat Monica Niculescu and reach the final - and improve her immaculate record at the tournament to 14-0.
Things didn't look so great for Pavlyuchenkova early on, as she not only dropped the first set but eventually found herself down 63 10, and serving 15-30 in the next game; but she reeled off 10 of the next 11 games to take the second set and build a 4-0 lead in the third set and, after Niculescu carved out four straight games to catch up to 4-4, the No.5-seeded Russian powered home, 36 62 64.
"I didn't know what to expect from Monica really - when you watch her play and when you actually play her is totally different," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I couldn't really find my rhythm in the first set. She was playing very high balls but also hitting this forehand slice, which you never see in tennis, and it's a really tricky shot. So she was mixing the rhythm up. And she was also putting a lot of balls back. It was really frustrating, and I was getting anxious. But all credit to her, she was playing really well today.
"After the first set I calmed myself down and just played my game. It looks like it's easy to play against her from the side, but she's definitely a tough opponent to play. I'm just happy with myself that I didn't get crazy at the end when she caught up to 4-all. I just controlled my emotions and stayed calm until the end. Finishing the match wasn't easy and I'm very happy I pulled through against her."
Pavlyuchenkova has never lost in Monterrey - she is 14-0 here now, having won the title in both of her previous appearances here, in 2010 and 2011. She missed the event last year to play Dubai.
"After the first match here this year I said it would be a dream come true to win it three times," she said. "Now I feel amazing - anytime you get to a final it feels great and amazing, but especially here.
"I expect nothing in the final. I'll just enjoy it and hopefully I can play some good tennis."
"Maria was playing very well tonight - it was a great match," Kerber said. "I started very well. In the second set she played better, and I was having a little bit of problems with my serve, but in the third I just focused on playing my game again and took it point by point until the last one, and that's it.
"I'm so excited to reach the final here."
Kerber is making her first appearance in Monterrey, so she too is undefeated here, with a 4-0 record - however, Pavlyuchenkova beat Kerber in the pair's only previous meeting, at Brisbane in January.
"Tomorrow will be another tough match," Kerber said. "Hopefully both of us will play well. I'll try to give my best and enjoy the final, and hopefully a lot of people will come out and support us."