STRASBOURG, France - In an intriguing second-round clash between unseeded players at the Internationaux de Strasbourg, Jil Teichmann squeezed past former champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-6(2), 7-5 in one hour and 57 minutes.
The Swiss No.2, twice a WTA champion on clay in 2019 after collecting her first two titles in Prague and Palermo, also impressed on hard courts following the Tour resumption last month, reaching her third career final in Lexington. Back on her beloved terre battue, Teichmann had already dealt out an upset in the first round over No.6 seed Amanda Anisimova, and proved better at the business end of two tight sets to score another over Pavlyuchenkova, whose most recent WTA trophy came at Strasbourg 2018.
Afterwards, Teichmann said that practising on clay in Switzerland ahead of the Tour's restart had helped her transition back to it after a successful US swing. "Honestly, I thought it would be tougher," she said. "I had let's say six, seven, eight weeks on clay doing preparation for the restart, so that really helped me right now."
A pair of opening love holds would emphatically not set the tone for a narrowly contested first set in which neither player would be able to build any hint of momentum, particularly behind their own delivery. It would feature six breaks of serve in total, with Teichmann initially being the player to first gain, then lose her leads.
The World No.54 blended dynamic defence with injections of pace down the line to break Pavlyuchenkova for 3-1, and then again for 4-2. But each time, she was unable to consolidate, paying the price for an unwise serve-and-volley decision on a point for 4-1 and lapsing into error at the business end of her service games.
Pavlyuchenkova's ability to dictate play with her power would pay off on occasion when the Russian successfully spread the ball from line to line, but this was all too intermittent: a blitzed forehand winner garnered her a break of the Teichmann serve for 6-5, but a succession of groundstroke errors threw away her opportunity to close the set out. In the ensuing tiebreak, it was Teichmann who proved more solid, winning seven of the last eight points from 0-2 down and saving the best shot of the opening act for last, a brilliant forehand pass on the run on her first set point.
A medical timeout between sets to treat her right thigh did not bode well for Pavlyuchenkova, and on resumption her serve seemed particularly affected. The World No.38 opened the second set with consecutive double faults, and would throw in at least one in each of her first four games of the frame. A break to love for 3-2 seemed to put Teichmann firmly in the driver's seat on the way to the finishing line.
But as in the first set, the 23-year-old could not press home her advantage. With her backhand going awry, Teichmann conceded the break back immediately - and suddenly, it was Pavlyuchenkova surging. Rattling off three games in a row, the former World No.13 showcased her best sustained hitting of the match to arrive at the brink of the second set.
A last-minute tactical adjustment would wrest the momentum back for Teichmann, though. The 2014 US Open girls' doubles champion began to wheel out the dropshot to superb effect, with two - along with a marvellous angled forehand winner - preventing Pavlyuchenkova from serving out the set.
Indeed, from 3-5 down Teichmann would hit her stride to display her own best form, striking the ball with panache and creativity - in contrast to Pavlyuchenkova, whose backhand in particular was a disappointment in the final stages of the match.
"I really focused on every point," recalled Teichmann afterwards. "She upped her game, so I was like - OK, play each point, game by game. And I kept playing better and better."
Teichmann would win 16 of the final 20 points of the match, dropping just one point in each of the last four games - and even having to delay her celebrations after a Pavlyuchenkova return, initially called out, was overruled on her first match point couldn't delay her for long. A service winner on the second match point wrapped up a fine win for Teichmann, and sealed a quarterfinal date against either No.2 seed Elina Svitolina or Magda Linette.