Pavlyuchenkova Wants Badly To Win Every Time

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (photo: @MutuaMadridOpen/Twitter)

MADRID/WASHINGTON, May 5, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Over the course of unseeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova‘s two-hour and 44-minute third-round slugfest against Jennifer Brady at the WTA 1000 Mutua Madrid Open Tuesday evening, there were plenty of peaks and valleys, moments in which the 41st-ranked Russian exuded good thinking but didn’t always show good execution.

For instance, there’s the seven double faults and 31 unforced errors that Pavlyuchenkova committed. Also, she let a match point slip away in the second set tie-break, ahead 6-5. It would take her nearly an hour before her next match-point opportunity came knocking. This time, she seized it and left Arantxa Sanchez Stadium with her third straight Top 25 victory of the week.

After Pavlyuchenkova had achieved her first three-match winning streak of the season with her 7-5, 6-7 (8), 6-3 victory over the World No. 14 Brady, seeded 11th in Madrid, she had advanced to her first tour-level quarterfinal since the 2020 Australian Open. On Wednesday afternoon, she will meet No. 20 Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.

Pavlyuchenkova hit 40 winners to overcome 31 unforced errors and broke Brady’s serve six times in 12 attempts. Although Brady broke Pavlyuchenkova four times during the match and saved a match point in the second set tie break, it was the Russian who thought her way through the struggle of closing out the match and won on her second match-point opportunity after the first one had come and gone. The victory improved Pavlyuchenkova’s win-loss record to 8-8 for this season.

Afterward, the 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova, who has won 12 WTA titles during her career, let her racquet do her bidding for her. Soon, it was time for her to hold court virtually with Tennis TourTalk and the WTA Insider, where she spoke what was on her mind – and there was plenty to fill a reporter’s notebook.

When Pavlyuchenkova was asked by Tennis TourTalk how she stayed focused through the match and what drove her to win, she responded: “I had a lot of opportunities during the second set as well. Even though [Jen] was 4-1 up, I thought it’s 4-all now, 5-all – every game is so close. I had a match point in the tie break. After that, I was so down on myself. I thought, ‘Oh, my God. I don’t know how I’m go and play the third set now.’ I wanted to win so you got to go out there and play.”

Pavlyuchenkova is proud that she’s been a Top 50 fixture for the past 13 years. Her career prize money exceeds $10,000,000, but she’s still driven.

“It’s not only today, but I have been through a lot of difficult challenges this year and last year as well,” Pavlyuchenkova explained. “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.”

When Pavlyuchenkova, who has been coming to play Madrid since she was 17 and once reached the quarterfinals in 2011, was asked what her string of Madrid victories this week – each against opponents ranked better than she is – meant for her confidence, she was ready with a matter-of-fact response.

“I think it’s a hell of a draw since the first round,” Pavlyuchenkova said, cracking a smile as she was reminded that her winning streak was the result of beating three Top 25 opponents in Madrid – Madison Keys, Karolina Pliskova and Brady. “Any tournament when you beat a Top 10, or I beat Karolina, she was sixth-seeded, here, you think, ‘Okay, it either it might be a little easier or open draw.’ But it got even tougher! It gets tougher and tougher. But, again, it’s a great tournament, great challenges for me.

“I’ve also been a Top 20 player so I know I can be there. I haven’t been consistent or solid enough lately to be there. So, it’s been a great challenge for me this week. I want to keep improving. …

“At some point, rankings points – and my ranking – don’t really matter so much. It more about wanting to win titles again. I want to win another title. I want to go out there and put up a fight like I did today – and I want to show, you know what, that I can do that.”

Muchova finally found a way to win

Karolina Muchova, who improved her record against Top 20 opponents this season to 6-0 with her 6-0, 6-7 (9), 7-5 victory over World. No. 19 and 16th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece, reached her first WTA 1000 quarterfinal Tuesday night. The match didn’t end until almost midnight after lasting two hours and 35 minutes. It took the 20th-ranked, rising Czech star four match points to close out Sakkari.

Muchova overcame 43 unforced errors by hitting 21 winners and breaking Sakkari’s serve eight times in 15 tries and outpointing her opponent 109-95. Sakkari hit 27 winners but committed 55 unforced errors. The Czech had match points during the second set, at 6-5 and 7-6 in a tie break that Sakkari ultimately won. It was nearly an hour later before Muchova finally found a way to win.

Tennis TourTalk asked Muchova what it meant to her to be able to pull out a victory that almost wasn’t in the manner in which she did. She thought about the question for a moment and smiled, then said: “I would have actually appreciated playing just two sets, but I’m happy I won a tough match. It’s definitely good for my confidence, for the next matches. I just actually look forward to resting a bit. I have a match tomorrow.”

And what did she learn about herself, especially enduring despite the long separation of time between match points? “You know, I tried to forget those [first] two sets. It was 1-1. So, we started with a clean slate. I tried to stay focused on every ball, to fight until the very end. It showed me it was worth it.”

Through it all, Muchova maintained a sense of Zen calmness, which the TV cameras caught a glimpse of during the final changeover of the match. She explained it this way: “I was actually kind of meditating. I wouldn’t call it meditating, but I was trying to get the focus right and it was very emotional and tough. So, I tried to be focused as I am on every game and calmed myself. I didn’t think about the score and played every ball.”

Muchova admitted it would be tough to have to come back and play her quarterfinal on no days’ rest – especially since her match ended almost at midnight – “but it is what it is and I’ll take it and try to do my best to recover as best as possible and be ready to fight again [Wednesday].”

What they’re saying

Daniil Medvedev, who plays his first match in Madrid Wednesday against No. 49 Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, explained  his love-hate relationship with clay during a Media Day virtual press conference earlier this week: “I don’t think it will change, to be honest. It’s just about play[ing] on clay. I think my shots, my movement, my physical appearance doesn’t suit clay, because to be honest, first week I come on clay – because, yeah, I play on hard courts or grass for, let’s say eight months in a row – and then I have this clay court season for two months, maybe one month and a half. First week when I come on clay, I have everything around me. I just hate to be on the court, and that’s very rare for me.

“Then, I get used to it and it starts to be better. The big thing that motivates me is that I know that I’m capable to win matches. Two years ago, I beat some really good guys. [I] was in really good shape. So, I know that I’m capable. [I] just need to always find this confidence and this feeling which is tougher for me to find on clay than on hard courts.”

What they’re telling Tennis TourTalk

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on the importance of playing in front of fans this week in Madrid: “I’ve struggled with bubbles and playing without crowds. For some reason, it’s so important to me – such a huge difference. I played my first two matches here with crowds and it was good energy. Today (playing in a stadium with no crowds) felt like a practice match. … I’m an emotional player and I need that energy and atmosphere [of playing with a crowd].”