ST. PETERSBURG, Russia -- No.2 seed Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands moved into the semifinals of the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy on Friday, outlasting Russian hope Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-2, 3-6, 6-0, in their quarterfinal tilt.
World No.8 Bertens had won their first three matches between 2014 and 2016, but Pavlyuchenkova had won their last two battles, at Wuhan last year and, most recently, in the second round of the Australian Open just two weeks ago. But Bertens, at her career-high ranking, finally picked up another win over the Russian after 91 minutes of play.
"It was really tough," Bertens admitted to the press, following her win. "[Pavlyuchenkova and I] met a few weeks ago in Melbourne, and she was the better one, so I’m really happy to get through today."
Bertens added that St. Petersburg is "a really nice tournament, it’s my third time here, and I guess third time lucky because the other times I didn’t win matches! So I’m really happy to be in the semifinals here."
Bertens won 77 percent of points on her first serve, and her powerful play was on song on the day, hitting 31 winners, including five aces, compared to only 21 unforced errors, almost all of which came in the second set. Pavlyuchenkova had 13 winners, well under her 31 unforced errors.
The 27-year-old Dutchwoman has set up an all-Top 10 tussle in the semifinals. She will face 4th-seeded Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who has won her first two matches as the newest member of the Top 10, including her quarterfinal clash against Ekaterina Alexandrova earlier on Friday. Bertens has won both of her previous matches against Sabalenka.
"It’s going to be a really tough match," Bertens said of her upcoming meeting with Sabalenka. "She’s playing really aggressive. We’ve met a few times before, last time was in Paris on clay, so it’s a while ago. Since then, she’s played really well, so it’s going to be an interesting match and I really have to play aggressive myself."
Bertens got off to a flying start in the encounter. The Dutchwoman broke Pavlyuchenkova in the opening game, then used a marvelous crosscourt forehand to break the Russian once more and open up a 3-0 lead.
Pavlyuchenkova finally stopped a four-game winning streak when she held for 4-1, but two consecutive love holds after that, each one ending with an ace, gave Bertens the one-set lead. Bertens had 11 winners in the first set, and only four unforced errors.
But the tables turned in the second set, as it was Pavlyuchenkova who started strongly. Big hitting by the Russian at 1-0 led to her first break of the match, and she consolidated with an easy hold to lead 3-0.
Strong forehands brought Bertens back on serve at 4-3, but the 2nd seed’s momentum was immediately halted when she dropped serve in the next game behind a flurry of unforced errors. Serving for the second set at 5-3, Pavlyuchenkova stayed steely, closing out the set with an ace. Bertens had 16 unforced errors in the second set, four times what she had in the first.
Bertens, though, wholly cleaned up her act in the deciding set. The Dutch player had only one unforced error in the final frame as she raced to victory. Bertens broke Pavlyuchenkova with forehand winners on break points in the Russian’s first two service games, frustrating the Russian as a 4-0 lead was attained.
Great serving gave Bertens an easy hold for 5-0, and though Pavlyuchenkova staved off one match point in the next game with a big serve of her own, a cracking backhand winner down the line allowed Bertens to convert match point number two, as she was far too strong in the third set to garner anything less than a decisive victory.