Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Karolina Muchova emerged triumphant in topsy-turvy marathons on Tuesday to complete the quarterfinal lineup at the Mutua Madrid Open.
Pavlyuchenkova moved into her first tour-level quarterfinal since the 2020 Australian Open after overcoming No.11 seed Jennifer Brady, 7-5, 6-7(8), 6-3.
Read more: Wednesday's Madrid preview
Muchova also knocked out a seeded player by squeaking past No.16 seed Maria Sakkari, 6-0, 6-7(9), 7-5, as the newest member of the Top 20 improved to 6-0 against Top 20 opposition in 2021.
In both of those thrillers, the winners failed to convert at least one match point in the second-set tiebreak before rebounding to claim victory in the final set. Now the two unseeded players will face each other for a spot in the semifinals.
Former Top 15 player Pavlyuchenkova made a long-awaited return to the Mutua Madrid Open quarterfinals after outlasting Brady in their hard-hitting affair on Tuesday.
Pavlyuchenkova was a Madrid quarterfinalist a full decade ago in 2011, and has now matched that career-best tournament result after the two-hour and 48-minute victory over Brady, this year’s Australian Open runner-up.
In the first meeting between the pair, World No.41 Pavlyuchenkova used her powerful game to fire an even 40 winners, keeping that total ahead of her 31 unforced errors.
This performance resulted in the Russian’s second Top 20 victory of the week, along with her second-round win over World No.9 Karolina Pliskova. Pavlyuchenkova was 0-4 against the Top 20 in 2021 prior to arriving in Madrid.
"I think it's a hell of a draw since the first round," Pavlyuchenkova told the press, after her win. "Any tournament when you beat a Top 10, or I beat Karolina, she was No.6-seeded here, you think, 'Okay, it either might be a little easier or open draw.' But it got even tougher. It gets tougher and tougher and tougher," the Russian said with a smile.
Brady had claimed straight-set wins over Grand Slam champions Venus Williams and Jelena Ostapenko in her first two rounds, but could not stay with Pavlyuchenkova down the stretch as her 32 winners were ultimately overtaken by 37 unforced errors.
Brady was broken in the first game of the match but the American grasped the break back for 4-4 in a closely-contested opening frame. But forehand errors by Brady helped Pavlyuchenkova clinch another break for 6-5, and the Russian dutifully served her way to the one-set lead.
In the second set, Pavlyuchenkova hit consecutive double faults to drop serve at 2-1 while Brady cleaned up her forehand to surge to a 4-1 lead. But the advantage could not hold as Pavlyuchenkova collected three straight games to reach parity at 4-4, and from there, the duo had no trouble serving their way into a tiebreak.
Superb delivery continued in the breaker as the first 14 points went to the server, as Brady saved a match point at 6-5 while Pavlyuchenkova erased a set point at 7-6. At last, returners took the next two points before Brady fired a backhand winner to reach 9-8 and garner her third set point. There, Pavlyuchenkova hit an extremely untimely double fault to cede the second set to Brady.
After an early exchange of breaks, Pavlyuchenkova won a 12-minute game to take a 4-2 lead, but Brady immediately pulled back on serve. However, the Russian quickly reclaimed her advantage, breaking for 5-3 with a stellar backhand return to force an error. Pavlyuchenkova would not relinquish this lead, grabbing a much-delayed second match point and converting it with a backhand pass down the line.
"I have been through a lot of difficult challenges this year and last year as well," Pavlyuchenkova said. "But the only thing that keeps me going and motivates me is, I want to win so badly every match I play. That's what we are basically playing for."
For Muchova, who made her Top 20 debut at World No.20 in the newest set of rankings, she continued an undefeated streak of excellence against the world's Top 20 this season, but had to recover from being down a late break in the final set to do so.
After two hours and 35 minutes, though, the Czech had held off the challenge from Greece's Sakkari, ranked just a single spot ahead of her at World No.19, and clinched the final quarterfinal spot just before midnight in Madrid.
"I would actually appreciate to play two sets, but I'm happy I made it," Muchova said with a smile during her post-match press conference. "It was a very tough match. It's definitely good for confidence for the next matches."
Muchova won 61 percent of points off of Sakkari's second service overall, leading to her eight breaks of serve -- including two in the final three games of the match to steer her to victory.
After a routine first set by Muchova, where she mixed creative lobs in with powerful play to sweep to the bagel, the match became incredibly competitive in the second set. After Muchova went up an early break at 2-1, Sakkari at last broke the Muchova serve to get back level at 2-2, turning the match into an epic clash.
Despite a number of lengthy games pitting the variety of Muchova against the sturdy play by Sakkari, there were no more breaks up to the tiebreak, with Muchova saving two set points at 5-4. In the breaker, Sakkari built a massive 5-0 lead, but Muchova drew errors from the Greek and claimed six points in a row to set up match points at 6-5 and 7-6.
Those were both fended off by Sakkari, who then earned three more set points in the tiebreak. Miscues by the Greek cost her the first two of those, but on the third, Muchova fired a forehand long, and Sakkari had successfully recovered from a bagel set and a break down.
The third set was filled with six breaks of service through 5-5, including one by Muchova when Sakkari served for the match at 5-4. At the end of the affair, Muchova’s groundstrokes caused too much hassle for Sakkari, and on her fourth match point, nearly an hour after her first two, Muchova converted one final service break for the win, after drawing one last error from Sakkari.
"I tried to forget actually those [first] two sets, and it was 1-1, so we started with a clear slate," Muchova said. "I just tried to stay focused and on every ball, to fight till the end. Yeah, it showed me that it was worth it."