MELBOURNE (REUTERS) - Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova stayed aggressive in the face of a spirited fightback from former champion Angelique Kerber to move into the quarter-finals of the Australian Open with a 6-7(7-5), 7-6 (7-4), 6-2 win on Monday (Jan 27).
It will be the third quarter-final appearance in four years for the 28-year-old Russian and her win ensured Melbourne Park will crown a new women’s singles champion on Saturday.
Pavlyuchenkova hit an incredible 71 winners, more than double of her opponent, against 36 unforced errors but still needed 2hr 37min to see off the challenge from the former world No. 1.
Asked if it was a tough outing in her on-court interview, the Russian shot back, “You think so?”, before breaking into laughter.
“It was extremely tough. In my head I lost it couple of times during the match. So I am really happy that I am standing here right now,” she said.
In her next match, Pavlyuchenkova will face another two-time Grand Slam winner in unseeded Garbine Muguruza, who strolled past Kiki Bertens 6-3 6-3 earlier.
Muguruza’s participation at the Australian Open had been in doubt due to illness but her demolition of Bertens she is not only nearing full health but could also be a genuine title contender.
The victory followed a similar 6-,1 6-2 thrashing of fifth seed Elina Svitolina in the third round and Muguruza said she was beginning to feel more comfortable.
“Starting the Grand Slam not feeling great it’s not a good feeling,” she said of the viral illness that forced her out of a warm-up tournament in Hobart.
“(I’m) just adapting to every single day, how my body was, how my matches were.
“I feel like my body is getting healthier (and) I’m happy of how I’m dealing with this.”
Former French Open and Wimbledon champion Muguruza entered the tournament unseeded and was viewed as a dangerous floater.
Just three of the top 10 seeds remain – top seed Ashleigh Barty and seventh seed Petra Kvitova meet in the quarter-finals. The other is Simona Halep, the fourth seed, who plays Estonian 28th seed Anett Kontaveit.
The 26-year-old Muguruza reunited with Conchita Martinez, her fellow Spaniard and the 1994 Wimbledon champion, at the start of the year in the hope of reviving her failing career.
Muguruza, who has suffered a barren 18 months, said she was enjoying having Martinez on her coaching team.
“When you talk to another player you don’t have to put too many words, you right away understand each other,” she said.As part of her reboot, Muguruza spent a few days in the off-season climbing Mount Kilimanjaro to clear her mind of tennis.
Muguruza ended 2019 ranked 36 in the world, the first time since 2014 that she had finished the year outside the top 20.
Halep, a beaten finalist at Melbourne Park two years ago, had to be at her counter-punching best to see off a determined second-set comeback from Elise Mertens as the Romanian world No. 3 advanced with a 6-4, 6-4 victory.
Mertens, who beat Halep in the Doha final last year, blasted bags of winners but also made 38 unforced errors as Halep chased down every ball and made the Belgian work for every point.
Mertens stormed back from a double break 3-0 deficit in the second set to level at 4-4, only for Halep to break in a marathon ninth game and serve out to advance to the last eight.
"Against her in Doha, in the final, I was leading a set and 4-2 and lost the match so I knew I had to stay focused until the end," two-time Grand Slam champion Halep said.
"To be honest, I got a bit nervous at 4-3 (in the second).
"I had to calm down because when I get nervous, I get a bit crazy on court so I had to stay cool and get energy from the box and not think (about the past).
"But I was strong enough to finish the match."