MOSCOW, Russia -- 2014 champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova kicked off her 2019 VTB Kremlin Cup campaign with a come-from-behind victory, as the hometown favorite fought past No.7 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, 5-7, 6-1, 6-3, to claim a spot in the second round.
Moscow resident Pavlyuchenkova, who also reached the final in 2015, improved her career win-loss record at the tournament to 17-9, as she overcame World No.29 Sakkari in just under two hours of action. Pavlyuchenkova avenged a straight-set loss to Sakkari in their only prior meeting, which came at Rome earlier this season.
"We played last time in Rome, and Maria won," Pavlyuchenkova said after her victory. "She’s a very tough cookie, she’s fighting a lot and she’s putting a lot of balls back. But I’m happy that I was very aggressive in the second and third set, and I could manage to take it from her. "
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World No.40 Pavlyuchenkova, who reached the Australian Open quarterfinals at this season's first Grand Slam event, matched Sakkari's 24 winners in the clash, and had five fewer unforced errors than the Greek player. The Russian broke Sakkari five times in the final two sets to attain the victory.
"Especially playing at home, it feels very special, and I’m so happy that I won and pulled through today," Pavlyuchenkova stated.
— WTA (@WTA) October 15, 2019
A closely contested, hard-hitting opening set came down to a handful of close games at its tail end. After having to save two break points to hold for a 5-4 lead, Sakkari struggled in her subsequent service game as well. The Greek also faced two break points in that game, but ultimately earned a 6-5 lead after five deuces, prevailing with well-timed aggression.
On the first point of the next game, Sakkari challenged a forehand which had been called out, and the shot had indeed clipped the sideline for a winner. Pavlyuchenkova fired two successive miscues after that overturned call, suddenly ceding triple set point to the Greek. The Russian faltered further, double faulting on the first set point, and Sakkari had eked out a one-set lead.
Pavlyuchenkova was undone by going 1-for-7 on break points in the opening set, but the Russian rectified that issue in the second stanza, as she used her powerful groundstrokes to dominate the frame. The former Moscow champion started the set by earning a break point in the first game with a deft lob, and she converted her chance after a Sakkari forehand flew wide.
— WTA (@WTA) October 15, 2019
The Russian cruised through the set from there, clinching a second break for 3-0 after a barrage of blistering service returns. After another easy hold gave Pavlyuchenkova a 5-1 advantage, Sakkari served to stay in the set, but two double faults in that game led to double set point for the Russian. A beautiful return winner on the first set point allowed Pavlyuchenkova to level the match at one set apiece.
Sakkari stunted the Russian’s momentum by breaking at love to start the decider, but Pavlyuchenkova charged the net to break right back for 1-1. Pavlyuchenkova eventually claimed the critical break at love to take a 4-2 lead after Sakkari fired a forehand long.
Deep hitting by Sakkari helped her fend off two match points on her serve at 5-2, and the Greek had one last chance to extend the tilt, garnering two break points at 5-3 after a crosscourt passing winner. However, Pavlyuchenkova powered past that peril, pounding fiery forehands to win the last two points of the clash and notch a sterling win over the No.7 seed.
Pavlyuchenkova will face a fellow Russian in the second round: 19-year-old qualifier Varvara Gracheva. Up-and-coming teenager Gracheva, who has seen her ranking rise over 300 spots this year to her current career-high of World No.121, dispatched Ajla Tomljanovic of Australia in the first round, 6-3, 6-2.