OEIRAS, Portugal - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova kept her perfect record against Carla Suárez Navarro alive in the final of the Portugal Open on Saturday afternoon, battling back to sneak out a very tight first set then rolling through the second set to capture her fifth WTA title - and first on clay.
Having lost all four of their previous meetings, the No.4-seeded Suárez Navarro looked like she was going to finally turn the tables this time, coming out of the blocks with a 5-3 lead and three set points - one in that game and two more in the next game. But Pavlyuchenkova, the No.3 seed, got her game together just in time, sharpening up her huge groundstrokes and cutting down on her unforced errors from there. The Russian reeled off 10 of the last 12 games of the match to finish it off, 75 62.
"I had a slow start - I was a little bit disappointed about that, it was the third match this week I started like that," Pavlyuchenkova said. "Also Carla was playing really well - it wasn't easy to play my game because she was holding me back on the baseline, putting a lot of spin and moving me around.
"It wasn't easy, but I just tried to dig deep and fight and that really helped me in the end."
Pavlyuchenkova's coach, Martina Hingis, came out for some on-court coaching in the middle of the first set, right before the turnaround. "We had already discussed our tactics before the match and I had beaten Carla three or four times before already, but things just weren't working and I probably just needed some mental support from her," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I was complaining a little bit that these things weren't working, so I think I just needed some positive words from Martina out there.
"She told me to keep playing my game and be more aggressive, and other things. It really helped."
Pavlyuchenkova now has five WTA titles. Her other four came on hardcourts - Monterrey and Istanbul in 2010, then Monterrey again in 2011 and this year. She is now a very strong 5-2 in WTA finals.
Suárez Navarro, on the other hand, falls to 0-5 in WTA finals. "Today I had chances to win the first set but Nastia was playing so well at those moments, and then she played really, really well in the second set," the Spaniard said. "She just kept getting better as the match went on and deserved to win today. But it was a really good week for me - I'm very happy I was able to make another final here."
Now both players will head to Madrid, where they will both open up against Top 10 opposition - Pavlyuchenkova has Victoria Azarenka, Suárez Navarro has Sam Stosur. For Pavlyuchenkova the head-to-head pattern is flipped now, as the Russian is 0-3 in her career against Azarenka.
But success builds belief. "It's a really tough draw, but it's a really tough draw for both of us," Pavlyuchenkova said. "She hasn't played for a while and I've had a couple tournaments on clay and have been playing a lot. It's tough to say what's going to happen; all I know is I'll try my best.
"I'm not going to be scared, for sure. I'll just go out there and try to beat her."
The doubles final saw No.2 seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Kristina Mladenovic defeat No.4 seeds Darija Jurak and Katalin Marosi, 76(3) 62. Chan came away with her second WTA doubles title, Mladenovic her fifth. It wasn't a rookie pair, though - they had won the WTA 125K Series stop in Taipei last year.
"It's amazing for me, the last three tournaments I've played I've reached three finals - it's going really well in doubles for me right now!" Mladenovic said. "What a way to finish this week. It's just the second time we've played together and we won another tournament. It's because we're very good friends."