INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - It's hard to believe eight years have passed since a 17-year-old Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova blasted her way into the semifinals of the 2009 BNP Paribas Open in her tournament debut.
Ranked No.42 at the time, the teenage prodigy beat No.1 Jelena Jankovic and No.10 Agnieszka Radwanska before losing to Ana Ivanovic. It was the breakout tournament for the former junior No.1, who was the last woman to win three junior Slam titles, having won the 2006 Australian Open, US Open, and 2007 Australian Open. Her talent was prodigious and obvious, but since 2009 Pavlyuchenkova has never made it past the third round in Indian Wells, a fact that she can only laugh about now.
"I'm making fun of this, really," Pavlyuchenkova told WTA Insider. "After this, I was like a tourist. I had a bye and I was going straight to the prize money office to get my prize money for the second or third round.
"I maybe regret that in the past I wasn't fit enough and wasn't doing the right things. I was 17 and everything was new. I wasn't in good shape. I couldn't handle the pressure after. When you're 17 and you're Top 30... I just think 17 is too early to take all that pressure. It was tough. So I was struggling for a couple of years because I was expecting so much from myself. Let's face it, it was one tournament, right? It can happen.
"Nowadays when you're 17 it's impossible to do this. Tennis is different. Everything changed a lot."
Hi Indian Wells?? pic.twitter.com/izCosDjBOK
? A. Pavlyuchenkova (@NastiaPav) March 6, 2017
Over the last eight years, Pavlyuchenkova has consistently held a Top 30 position, but her results have been erratic. Spurts of fantastic play would be followed by a string of early losses. To her credit, the candid 25-year-old puts the blame at her own feet. A lack of fitness and wavering work ethic over the last few years left her wanting on court. Asked whether her innate talent - she's one of the best ball-strikers in the game - contributed to her work ethic, Pavlyuchenkova said no.
"I never really think of myself as a talented player," she said. "Really, I'm totally cool with this. A lot of coaches before, they told me, 'Yeah, you're talented. That's why you think you don't need to work.' I never thought I was super-talented or something. I just like to enjoy life, as well.
"I'm a moody person, and I hate routines. I think that was the main issue I had. Let's say, for two, three weeks [practice is the same]. I'm like, seriously? Same exercise? Can you mix it up? The coach is like, 'You have to do it.' I'm like, 'Yeah, I'm so tired of playing cross-court drills. Can we do something else? It gets annoying. Let's warm up again. Can we do something else or can we go and change?'
"I was always moody and there was no consistency in anything before."
Now Pavlyuchenkova is committed to change that. She's put in the hard work over the last 12 months and the results have become much more steady.
? A. Pavlyuchenkova (@NastiaPav) March 8, 2017
"I just decided, for once, can you just start doing the hard work? Or can you finally start practicing and be serious with this? "
Of course, consistency of hard work [is important] as well, because in the past I could have done good work for a couple of weeks or months, but then it was like that all the time (indicating up and down) a lot of changes. I was going through a lot of changes with coaches, the training base, the cities, everything. I think now I'm more consistent and more serious with that, as well.
"I'm 25. I'll be 26 in July. The time is going quick. Tennis life is kind of short. I feel like if it's not now, then after it's too late. I have an older brother who was really good, and I would say much more talented than me, who regrets a lot now, because he was doing a lot of bad choices and stuff. So that also shows me that I don't want to end up like that.
"I'm just gonna take my chances, try my best, work hard consistently, and see where it can bring me. You never know. Maybe I will never achieve something good, or maybe I will achieve really good things."
After the Miami Open last year, Pavlyuchenkova began working with Dieter Kindlmann, who had served as Maria Sharapova's hitting partner. It was the first step towards recommitting to her career and the physical work they put in paid off when she made the Wimbledon quarterfinal over the summer.
? A. Pavlyuchenkova (@NastiaPav) March 4, 2017
This year Pavlyuchenkova is working with Simon Goffin, and she has now made three quarterfinals in five tournaments. In Indian Wells she knocked out No.5 Dominika Cibulkova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 to advance to the quarterfinals, where she faces Svetlana Kuznetsova. It was her first Top 5 win since beating Agnieszka Radwanska last year at the Rogers Cup.
"Probably last year or couple years ago, I would definitely lose this match," Pavlyuchenkova told reporters after the match. "Maybe not two sets but three sets, for sure. I wouldn't be able to hold this level in two, three sets under this heat. "Before, I would probably tire. After one set, I would be so tired even if I won the set. I think today it shows that I have improved and I feel much fitter, so the third set kind of was consistent for me.
? WTA (@WTA) March 14, 2017
"I've been working really hard. After Dubai, I went straight to France to the academy, and since the first practice I was full on. But again, you don't know when it's going to pay off. You can get unlucky, you can lose the first match. And you can think, 'Oh gosh, I was working so hard. Why? Where is it?' But it can come later.
"I'm just trying to play match by match. Everyone is tough. I'm trying hard to go deeper and be consistent, and balance between wanting to go deep and having perspective."
Pavlyuchenkova was asked whether her change in attitude was triggered by a desire to play the rest of her career without any regrets. The thoughtful Russian dismissed that idea. This was more about taking control.
"I don't want to [have regrets], but I will have it, anyways," she said. "I think that's impossible. Either it's tennis or life, you always look back and you go, 'Oh, I could have done this better.' I think it's how life is.
"But I just feel like if I can change it, I should change it. Like, okay, maybe I have regrets, let's say, [the loss to Venus Williams at the Australian Open]. Next time I play her, let's change it. Don't at least repeat the same thing. I think that's what's important."