NEW YORK, NY, USA - No.7 seed Kiki Bertens came from a break down in both sets to defeat Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-4 in one hour and 34 minutes and move into the third round of the US Open for the second year in a row.
The Dutchwoman had lost to Pavlyuchenkova at the same stage of the Australian Open in January, but gained immediate revenge one tournament later in St Petersburg on the way to picking up her first title of the year. Indeed, Bertens, who struck 25 winners to 21 unforced errors and won the last five games of both sets, now leads the overall head-to-head 5-2 against the 2011 quarterfinalist.
"We’ve always had great battles," Bertens said of her rivalry with Pavlyuchenkova, after her win. "It’s always tough to play Nastia, you never really know what you’ll get, she’s always playing so aggressive."
The 27-year-old had to recover from an extremely subpar start, however. Conceding the first three games in the blink of an eye, Bertens netted a smash, double faulted and was generally a step slow to every ball, with errors flying early in rallies. Pavlyuchenkova, sensing vulnerability, piled on the pressure with a judicious array of dropshots, volleys and powerful off forehands.
Although Bertens located her serve sufficiently to post a pair of service holds, in a set of two halves the momentum shift did not occur until the St Petersburg and Madrid champion found herself down 2-5 - and when it did, it did so abruptly and absolutely. Pavlyuchenkova, who had been rock solid in every department until that point, suddenly coughed up three double faults, including one on set point - and now it was Bertens' turn to smell blood.
The former World No.4 snatched a brilliant cat-and-mouse point with a winning lob - and it unleashed her game to somewhere near its best. A flurry of winners followed - slice passes, dropshot chases, backhand angles - as Pavlyuchenkova's game collapsed in a cascade of wild errors. Having lost 12 of the first 14 points of the set, Bertens emerged as its winner after winning 12 of the last 15 points.
"I think I didn’t start good in the match, she started well, but then there was a turnaround at 2-5," Bertens stated. "When you can turn it around, and she started to miss some balls, you start believing more and more."
The second set was a similar story, with minor tweaks. Bertens carried over her strong form, but it was Pavlyuchenkova who located her forehand to capture the first break for 3-1. The Russian seemed to have navigated the danger zone successfully when she held after pulsating tussle for 4-1, saving three break-back points and sealing the game with a fabulous half-volley.
But three chances for the double break went begging in the next game as Bertens came up with her own big forehands to keep the scoreline close - and once she had held with a forehand down the line, the World No.45's form fell off as abruptly as it had in the first set.
Racking up 31 unforced errors and seven double faults in total, Pavlyuchenkova conceded the break back anticlimactically given how recently she had battled to retain the lead. Again, Bertens was able to run with the momentum shift all the way over the finishing line, rattling off five straight games and closing out the match in style with a love hold.
"In the second set, in the beginning, I already had some chances, but I didn’t take them," Bertens admitted. "Then, again, [I was down] 1-4. But from then on, again, [I was] fighting for every point, and I think I served it out pretty well."
Next up in her bid to make the second week of a major for the first time this year - and for the first time ever in New York - Bertens will face No.26 seed Julia Goerges, who dismissed wildcard Francesca Di Lorenzo 7-5, 6-0.
"We know each other pretty good, we’re good friends, so it’s going to be a tough match," Bertens said of Goerges. "She’s playing really aggressive, good serve, so I have to be ready again, and it’s going to be a great match."