ABU DHABI, U.A.E. -- Russian qualifier Anastasia Gasanova pulled off the biggest upset of the 2021 season thus far, as the 292nd-ranked player in the world shocked former World No.1 Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, 6-2, 6-4, to reach the round of 16 at the Abu Dhabi WTA Women’s Tennis Open.
"It was not me on the court," an ecstatic Gasanova told the media, during her post-match press conference. "I was so sure of myself. I’m really happy right now."
The 21-year-old Russian made her WTA main-draw debut this week and earned her first Tour-level victory in the first round, over former Top 25 player Mona Barthel. Her 72-minute win over No.3 seed Pliskova today, though, came in brand new territory for Gasanova -- it was the Russian’s first-ever match against a player ranked inside the Top 100, let alone the Top 10.
Gasanova seized the moment, matching powerful Pliskova in winners with 18 apiece, and breaking the Top 10 star four times while ceding her own service just a single time. The speedy Russian kept her unforced errors lower than her winner count, with 15, while Pliskova was undone by 28 unforced errors of her own.
"I’m really surprised, but when I woke up today, I thought, ‘Why not? Why can’t I win this match?’" said Gasanova. "Actually, I thought I would lose in qualies or something like that, but I just kept pushing myself, like, I need to win and I want to win."
"I had a  goal to be Top 200, actually," Gasanova added. "I don’t know if I did this today, but that’s my goal. And to play against a Top 10 player is a great opportunity for me, and it’s a great chance to show how I could play."
For World No.6 Pliskova, this marked her first loss to a player ranked outside the Top 50 since she fell to then-World No.73 Jelena Ostapenko at 2019 Beijing. The Czech had won a title in the first week of the season in three of the last four seasons (at Brisbane in 2017, 2019, and 2020) but she will head out of Abu Dhabi this week with a 1-1 start to 2021.
Gasanova will try to keep her breakthrough run going when she faces Spain’s Sara Sorribes Tormo for a spot in the quarterfinals on Sunday.
Gasanova had a blistering start to the affair, coming through a long opening game to take Pliskova’s serve on her fourth break point, then using a backhand which routinely left Pliskova reeling to consolidate with ease for 2-0.
The Russian continued to chase down everything Pliskova threw at her before taking her chances to crack forceful groundstrokes, and was rewarded with a second break for 3-0 after forcing an error with another sublime return. A love hold for 4-0 backed up all of Gasanova’s hard work as she edged towards taking a set off of the former World No.1.
Pliskova cleaned up her service games in the latter stages of the set, but the Czech was never able to garner a break point on Gasanova’s serve in the opening frame, as the Russian eased to the one-set lead, completing it with a love hold. Gasanova had nine winners and just four unforced errors in the opening frame.
Pliskova had chances to shift the momentum early in the second set, as the Czech held a whopping five break points at 2-1. The Russian, however, fended each of them off to hold for 2-2, then kept her own powerful play going by breaking Pliskova in the very next game.
The Czech finally stopped Gasanova from motoring through the match without being broken, using her fierce forehand to storm through a break at love and level the second set at 4-4. However, any turnaround Pliskova hoped to execute at that juncture was thwarted when Gasanova used more stellar returning to reclaim her break lead and go up 5-4.
Gasanova knocked off three points in a row in the subsequent game to give herself triple match point for the gigantic upset. Two match points disappeared, but the third time was the charm for the qualifier after Pliskova sent a forehand return wide, giving Gasanova by far the biggest win of her young career.