VICTORIA PARK, Hong Kong -- After withstanding various weather-related delays and a stern test from a dogged opponent, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova emerged the victor at the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open.
The No.6 seed from Russia beat No.7 seed Daria Gavrilova of Australia, 5-7, 6-3, 7-6(3), in a match that included numerous twists and turns, and finally went down to the wire, ending at 1:00 a.m. local time on Monday morning, after over three hours of play.
"Right now, I’m really, really tired," exclaimed Pavlyuchenkova, after the match. "I just won a title, so I’m extremely happy with that. It was a really, really tough match."
Pavlyuchenkova obtained vengeance after losing her previous match against Gavrilova, which took place last year at the Kremlin Cup, and was another barnburner, lasting over two and a half hours. The Russian thus adds to her 2017 title haul, which includes championships at the Grand Prix De SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem and the Abierto GNP Seguros.
The match started much later than scheduled, due to nearly constant precipitation from a typhoon just off-shore. Once the match got underway, the combatants were shaky, and they struggled with the late-night conditions, combining for 103 unforced errors -- 62 of those by the eventual winner.
"It was not easy mentally, as this morning we were not sure if we were going to play or not, and then last night they said we are," Pavlyuchenkova continued. "But it’s the final day, so I knew there is just one match today, so I gave everything I had out there."
The match also showed both players at their best, with Pavlyuchenkova's rocket forehand being matched up against the unbelievable speed of Gavrilova. The first set was tight, as both players were strong on return, but Gavrilova came back from a 1-4 deficit, and claimed the crucial break of serve at 5-5 to ease to the one-set lead.
Pavlyuchenkova returned the favor in the second set with interest. The Russian improved the efficiency on her serve, while Gavrilova's serving effectiveness dropped, getting only one-third of her first serves into the box. A sturdy, unreturnable backhand by Pavlyuchenkova leveled the match at one set apiece.
The third set increased all of the dramatics of the previous sets to the next level. After an uneventful first four games, the final eight games all went against serve. Four times, Pavlyuchenkova was up a break in the final set, only to see Gavrilova dig in at each instance and even it.
During this stretch of service breaks, the match was closest to ending at 5-4, when an overhead winner by Pavlyuchenkova gave her two match points on her serve. But the Russian double faulted away the first, and a backhand into the net erased the second. Two unforced errors later, the match was tied once more at 5-5.
The players then had to survive a rain delay in the middle of the next game which lasted over half an hour. It appeared that the tilt might be postponed to the next day, but the rain subsided. The players returned to the court well into Monday morning, and the set inexorably progressed to the tiebreak.
In the tiebreak, Gavrilova leapt out to a 3-1 lead, and for a moment it seemed that she would take her second title of the year, after triumphing at the Connecticut Open in August. But Pavlyuchenkova punched a volley winner to get the tiebreak back on serve at 3-2.
That started a run of six straight points for Pavlyuchenkova, which she rode to the title. A forehand crosscourt winner gave the 26-year-old three more match points, and she only needed one after a forehand down the line forced an error from Gavrilova, to complete her herculean feat.
"I had a little bit of a slow start, even though I was 4-1 up, I just didn’t feel like light and good," Pavlyuchenkova admitted. "Happy I won those last, important points in the tiebreak in the third, and I'm just really pleased with that."
Both Pavlyuchenkova and Gavrilova are off to the Kremlin Cup, where they could face off again in the semifinals. "Tomorrow I’m flying to Moscow," Pavlyuchenkova laughed. "I just really hope I can do my best to recover and prepare well for the match there, which is on Tuesday. I’m really hoping to do well at my home crowd tournament."