ZHUHAI, China -- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova opened her campaign at the Hengqin Life WTA Elite Trophy on Tuesday with a win over one of her most frequent rivals.
The No.4-seeded Russian used her powerful game to defeat former World No.1 Angelique Kerber of Germany in three sets for the third consecutive time this season, with a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory on Tuesday. Pavlyuchenkova becomes the first player in the Rose Group to post a win in the round-robin portion of the event.
"Every time I play against Angelique, it’s a really tough three-set match," Pavlyuchenkova told the media after her win. "I felt good with my game, but then I knew she was tough, and it could go any way."
Pavlyuchenkova rebounded from an early break down in the final set to continue her solid play in Asia this autumn, after a runner-up appearance at the Toray Pan Pacific Open, followed by her third singles title of the year at the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open.
Pavlyuchenkova's other titles this year came at the Grand Prix De SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem in Rabat and the Abierto GNP Seguros in Monterrey (where she defeated Kerber in the final). By contrast, Kerber has not yet won a title this year, a far cry from her three titles, including two majors, she won last year.
Pavlyuchenkova is hoping for a fourth 2017 title in Zhuhai. "For me, before the tournament, I said that I want to win as many matches as I can," she told the press. "Before the tournament started, I’m like, ‘Okay, we’ll see how it goes.’ But once I’m on the court, I want to win all the time!"
— WTA (@WTA) October 31, 2017
Both players had solid statistics. Pavlyuchenkova had 30 winners compared to only 20 unforced errors, while Kerber had a whopping 37 winners as opposed to 26 miscues. The Russian had an edge on first serve efficiency, though, winning 71 percent of those points. She was also 8-for-8 when she came to net.
Despite that, the match started with both players shaky on serve. A double fault followed by a long forehand error by Kerber in the second game gave Pavlyuchenkova an immediate 2-0 lead, but the Russian ceded the break back directly when she double faulted down break point.
However, Pavlyuchenkova broke again in the very next game due to a messy Kerber service game, claiming a one-break lead for 3-1 which would hold her in good stead for the remainder of the set. Kerber would not see a break point in the set after that, and a forehand winner in the forecourt sealed the opener for the fourth seed.
Given their pattern over the 2017 season, it was expected that Kerber would rebound in the second set, and the two-time Grand Slam champion did just that. Kerber saved triple break point at 1-1, and then took the only break of the set at love to lead 4-2, after an error-filled game by Pavlyuchenkova.
— WTA (@WTA) October 31, 2017
By this point, Kerber's crouching crosscourt winners, which became a hallmark of her World No.1 season last year, were finding their targets repeatedly, and her service effectiveness picked up as well. Pavlyuchenkova was able to save a set point at 5-2 with a lovely drop shot, but Kerber closed out the second set with a forehand winner in the next game.
The pattern of their matches this year, which Pavlyuchenkova called "deja vu" in her on-court post-match interview, seemed like it would fall apart at the start of the third set, as Kerber, riding momentum, broke in the first game. The German was playing clean tennis, and was gunning for her first come-from-behind victory over Pavlyuchenkova this year.
But that momentum would suddenly collapse, as Kerber's shots began to falter, and more winners started to flow from the Russian's racquet. A lovely volley let Pavlyuchenkova even the set at 1-1, and strong shots off both wings led the Russian to reel off four straight games en route to a 4-1 lead in the third set.
A love service hold for 4-2 was the last gasp by Kerber, last year's Australian Open and US Open champion. In her next service game, Kerber staved off a match point with a backhand winner, and thought she hit an ace on the next point to get her to game point and extend the match.
Unfortunately for Kerber, Pavlyuchenkova successfully challenged the call, and the ace was overturned. Kerber then double faulted, bringing up a second match point for the Russian. One more unforced error by Kerber went into the net off the backhand side, and Pavlyuchenkova claimed another win in one hour and 54 minutes.
Kerber is still in the event thanks to the round-robin competition, and was straightforward about her first loss. "I started to play my game actually in the second set," said the former World No.1, "and then, I think at the end [Pavlyuchenkova] won the deciding points, and I think that was the key for the match."