STRASBOURG, France -- No.3 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova of Russia moved into her first final of 2018 at the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Friday, after No.1 seed Ashleigh Barty of Australia retired from their semifinal match due to injury while the Russian led 6-4, 1-0.
"It’s always amazing and great to be in the finals," Pavlyuchenkova told the press, after the match. "Not the way I wanted to go into the final today, but it is how it is, and I’m very happy."
Pavlyuchenkova claimed her third win in four meetings against Barty, but this was not in the manner she had hoped, as Barty had been struggling with her ailment from very early in the match, and felt compelled to stop the encounter after only 41 minutes of play.
"I honestly didn't see any signs -- also because I wasn't looking at her so much," said Pavlyuchenkova, regarding Barty's injury. "But I hadn’t seen anything except for, of course, when she called for the trainer after the set. But I thought maybe she was just going to have treatment and that’s it. I was still ready to play the second set."
Nevertheless, it was a strong performance by the heavy-hitting Russian, who had 19 powerful winners, compared to only 12 unforced errors, and went 3-for-3 on break points against the hampered Australian.
Pavlyuchenkova will now take on No.5 seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia in the final, in a battle of former Top 15 players who are likely both anxious to get their rankings back up to that level. Cibulkova claimed a comeback win over No.4 seed Mihaela Buzarnescu earlier on Friday, to reach her second final of the year.
Cibulkova and Pavlyuchenkova have played 10 times, with the Slovak holding a 7-3 edge. "Of course we know each other really well, off the court, and in tennis, on the court," said Pavlyuchenkova. "We’ve played many times against each other, we’ve also played doubles many times together before. We both know how we play."
"We’ve never played a final against each other, it was always during some rounds [earlier] in the tournament," the Russian continued. "It’s challenging and interesting, so I’ll hope to do well."
Pavlyuchenkova began the match with a bang. The Russian hammered a winner from her signature forehand to give herself a break point in the very first game, and then she converted the opportunity by forcing a Barty error with another solid shot off of that wing.
The Russian then held her first two service games with relative ease, grasping a 3-1 lead with an ace. In that game, Barty wobbled again on serve, and after Pavlyuchenkova hit a service return for a clean winner, the Russian led 4-1, and seemed to be en route to clinching a quick first set.
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However, Barty’s notable variety of shot made an appearance in the next game, as the Australian garnered a break point with a passing shot, and then claimed her only break of the tilt when her slice backhand forced Pavlyuchenkova to hit an error into the net.
Following that success, Barty held for 4-3 with an ace, but her injury was already causing her distress, which she noted to her coach during an on-court visit. The Russian's game did not collapse, and she held on for 5-3 after a drop shot forced an error by the top seed.
Pavlyuchenkova closed out the first set handily, and Barty took a medical time-out after the opening frame's completion. The Australian gave it the old college try and went back on court to open the second set, but as the first game wore on, Barty was unable to keep Pavlyuchenkova’s groundstrokes in play with her forehand.
After Barty double faulted while down break point to put the Russian up an immediate break in the second set, she had had more than enough, and called it quits.
"It was a tough decision for me," Barty told the press, after the match. "It’s never easy withdrawing from a tournament. I’m disappointed not to be able to play my best and to finish the match today, but I think at this stage I have to listen to my body, and today I was unable to play at 100 percent. That’s not fair to my opponent or the tournament, to be out there and not be able to give my best effort."