ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - No.5 seed Julia Goerges has made it to the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy quarterfinals on her debut in the tournament after overcoming qualifier Roberta Vinci for the first time in four attempts 7-5, 6-0 in the second round.
The German had won just one set from Vinci in three previous meetings dating back to 2010 - and it was evident that this was a tricky match-up for her from the start. The 2016 St. Petersburg champion, who has announced that she will play the final match of her career at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, Rome in May, found early success by delivering relentless, biting slice towards the Goerges backhand - a strategy that elicited errors off the 29-year-old's weaker wing while also enabling the World No.147 to control the tempo of the match.
The Italian also produced a number of brilliant, highlights-reel passes while stubbornly fending off break points with timely, well-placed serves. But Goerges, currently sitting at a high of World No.12 after winning 16 of her past 17 matches, is in the best form of her career - a stretch that began last October on Russian indoor hard courts when she took the Kremlin Cup trophy in Moscow.
The 29-year-old's match-tough resilience was on full display as the set reached its climax. Two points from losing it while serving at 4-5, Goerges extricated herself from the danger zone by banging down a pair of aces - two out of a total of ten she would strike today, extending her overall tally at the top of the 2018 ace leaderboard to 80.
"I knew I'd never beaten her before, which didn't mean that I would lose today," said Goerges afterwards about staying positive throughout the match.
"Every match starts from zero. I did everything that I possibly can do - I really tried to stay aggressive because that's the biggest key against her. If you let her dictate the game and let her play smart, that's the best part of her game, you won't be successful and it looks a bit like cat and mouse."
A game later, a four-deuce tussle added to the German's break point conversion woes - but finally breaking through on her ninth of the set, she proved that how many you miss is less important than whether you take them.
When Goerges captured the set with a backhand winner off a Vinci slice, the very shot she had initially struggled with, it was an illustration that she was now hitting her stride. Winners flowed off both wings as she leapt out to a double break lead, winning 12 of the second set's first 15 points in a flurry of rapid-fire points that prevented the former World No.7 from drawing her into cagy rallies.
The 2015 US Open runner-up, playing at the site of her biggest tournament victory for the final time, made a valiant last stand in the fourth game, stretching Goerges through four deuces - but, appropriately enough, it was another backhand winner down the line that finally enabled the seeded player to consolidate her lead and move ahead 4-0. Thereafter, the World No.12 powered towards the finishing line to seal her second bagel set of the year, and extend her winning streak on Russian soil to seven.
Having disposed of a 34-year-old-qualifier on the brink of retirement, Goerges will face another qualifier at the other end of the age spectrum in tomorrow's quarterfinals - 18-year-old Elena Rybakina, the shock conqueror of No.3 seed Caroline Garcia on Wednesday.
If Goerges wins that match, her semifinal showing could mean a Top 10 debut for the German - not that she's thinking about the milestone too much. "It would just be a number in front of my name," she laughed afterwards.
"Obviously it's a big goal that players have - but I don't put a lot of pressure on myself over it, because I think I've made all the moves in the right direction - so we'll see where it brings me!"