PARIS, France - Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova outlasted former champion and No.28 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova in an all-Russian battle to make a winning start at the French Open.
Playing through tricky conditions as autumn’s chill descended in Paris, Pavlyuchenkova found herself locked in a three-set battle against Kuznetsova, who was seeking to win her first match at Roland Garros since 2017.
But Pavlyuchenkova stayed solid in her tenth career meeting against her countrywoman and Billie Jean King Cup teammate, firing 21 winners and breaking her opponent’s serve seven times to make it through in three sets, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1 after an hour and 35 minutes.
Read more: Kvitova makes winning return to French Open
“[Drawing Kuznetsova in the first round] was definitely not something that I expected or was happy with,” Pavlyuchenkova admitted in her post-match press conference. “Of course, it’s never easy to play your friend, somebody from the same country as you. I’ve known Svetlana for ages, we’ve played many times.
“To start a Grand Slam, a first round like that is always tricky. Mentally, I’ll tell you it was a nail biting match and it wasn’t easy. But I’m really happy with the way I came through those emotions and the tough conditions out there.”
Pavlyuchenkova made a strong start against Kuznetsova on Court 13 as she broke serve to start the match, but the No.28 seed broke right back to keep them on serve, 1-1.
As the match unfolded, Pavlyuchenkova grew in confidence and did plenty of damage by redirecting the ball with her backhand down the line. Pavlyuchenkova reeled off the next five games in a row to take the opening set 6-1, breaking Kuznetsova three times - but it was anything but easy as Kuznetsova pushed her to deuce in three of those games, patiently waiting for her opportunities.
They came in the second set as the No.28 seed came roaring back, attacking Pavlyuchenkova’s serve as she opened up a double break, 3-0 lead. The younger player got one of the breaks back to make it 3-1, but was quickly broken once again as Kuznetsova extended her lead. Kuznetsova saved a break point to stay in front, and then forced a decider as she served out the second set 6-2.
Pavlyuchenkova hit the reset button as she fought her way back in the third set, halting Kuznetsova’s momentum with a confident break to 15 at 2-0. She found another level as she continued to boss the rallies and extended her lead to 4-0.
She had to fight off two more break points as Kuznetsova made a final push, keeping Pavlyuchenkova under pressure even as she down another game, 5-0. Pavlyuchenkova sealed the victory after an hour and 35 minutes, 6-1, 2-6, 6-1.
Pavlyuchenkova moves into the second round, where she’ll take on Katerina Sinivakova. The Czech player edged past Lauren Davis in straight sets, 7-6(5), 6-2, earlier in the day to advance.
“I haven’t thought ahead that much, but I’ve seen some of her matches in Strasbourg last week,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “It seemed like she was playing really good and she seemed very sharp. She’s obviously a very good player, so I’ll just prepare for it tomorrow and talk tactics with my coach.
“But all I know is that I have to do my job on the court and play the same way [as I did today]. I just have to play my game.”