World number 17 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova returns to the French Open after having a rather successful clay court season. A surprisingly consistent start to the new year saw the Russian make a push for the top 10 in the rankings and set herself as one of the dark horses for the second Grand Slam of the year. Currently having a seeded position in the top 16, Pavlyuchenkova can progress deep in the tournament where she made her first Grand Slam quarterfinal back in 2011 before almost reaching the semifinals after leading 6-1, 4-1 in that match, but failed to capitalize on her opportunities.
Notable results to date
Pavlyuchenkova has a 23-10 win-loss record this year, which stands at a fairly impressive 70% of wins at the moment, her best in a year since 2008. The Russian currently has a massive 15 wins against top 50 opponents, as compared to just 12 wins throughout the whole of last year. Pavlyuchenkova also has four wins against Top 10 players this year, showing that she could challenge the best of the best.
Starting the year on a disappointing note after crashing out in the opening round of the ASB Classic to Julia Goerges, it seemed like it was yet another lackluster season for the Russian. However, the former world number 13 bounced back the perfect way at the Sydney International, outclassing quality opponents such as former world number five Samantha Stosur and compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova, who is ranked in the top 10, triumphing in straight sets on both occasions.
Despite falling to the resurgent Eugenie Bouchard in the quarterfinals, Pavlyuchenkova entered the Australian Open with renewed confidence. The extra confidence reflected in her results as the Russian managed to defeat the in-form Elina Svitolina in the third round, in the process of completing the “Career Grand Slam” for the quarterfinals stage, reaching that stage in all four of the biggest tennis tournaments. Despite getting her second win over Kuznetsova in as many weeks, Pavlyuchenkova fell to the determined Venus Williams in two tight sets, despite leading in both sets.
The Russian had another great tournament in Indian Wells, achieving some great wins there as she outhit Barbora Strycova and Dominika Cibulkova, taking revenge for her loss in Qatar. However, her run came to a sudden stop at the hands of compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova, who took revenge for her two losses this year and reaching the final eventually. Failing to keep up the momentum, Pavlyuchenkova ran out of steam as she lost in the third round of the Miami Open to Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
Coming back from that disappointing loss perfectly, Pavlyuchenkova was the second seed at the Monterrey Open and was one of the favourites to clinch the title that week. Battling past tough opponents like Timea Babos and Caroline Garcia, the Russian claimed the best win of her career (rankings-wise) as she defeated world number one Angelique Kerber in the final.
Clay Court results leading up to Roland Garros
Her transition from her successful hard court swing to the clay court season has been anything but smooth. Her first match on clay courts this year saw her representing Russia at the Fed Cup competition, looking to send them back into the World Group. However, she fell to a shock defeat at the hands of Elise Mertens as Russia eventually fell to a shock 2-3 loss to Belgium, which was probably the biggest upset of this year’s competition.
Despite the terrible loss, Pavlyuchenkova returned to WTA competition in Rabat where she was the top seed. Coming through some tough opponents in Ekaterina Makarova, Lauren Davis, and Sara Errani, the Russian clinched her second title of the year as she ousted veteran Francesca Schiavone in the final.
Immediately traveling to the Mutua Madrid Open right after her triumph, Pavlyuchenkova was visibly struggling with fatigue as Sorana Cirstea outlasted her in three tough sets. Given a tough draw in Rome, a deep run seemed like a miracle for the Russian as she was drawn against former Roland Garros semifinalist Samantha Stosur in the first round. Despite so, she handled the pressure well as she prevailed in three sets and reached the third round after defeating the in-form Anastasija Sevastova. Pulling the eventual finalist to three sets, Pavlyuchenkova proved to be a tough nutshell to crack as Simona Halep had to battle for the win.
Pavlyuchenkova at the French Open
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has only reached the second week of Roland Garros for one single time in her career, which happened at the 2011 edition when she reached the quarterfinals. Pavlyuchenkova’s last three defeats in Paris came at the hands of Svetlana Kuznetsova, Lucie Safarova and Kiki Bertens, all of whom have at least reached the semifinals of the French Open in their careers. However, her history at the French Open has not been kind to her as she only claimed one single Top 50 victory in her career at this event, making it further difficult for her to make a breakthrough this year. Having a 15-9 win-loss record in this event, a tough draw this year would only see a possible early exit for the Russian.
How her game translates to the surface
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova plays an offensive style of tennis which actually does not suit clay courts, as reflected in her results. Utilizing aggressive groundstrokes to dictate play throughout the match, Pavlyuchenkova’s shots are usually very powerful and aim to outhit her opponents in most of her matches. Aiming for the lines constantly, Pavlyuchenkova wishes to make her opponent run all around the court to retrieve the balls and the Russian could also utilize drop shots and slices to catch her opponents off-guard. Pavlyuchenkova has to keep her double faults count as low as possible, keeping her serving consistent to have any opportunity to progress deep in the tournament. She must be able to punish her opponents’ vulnerable serves with large groundstrokes, and if she manages to play her best tennis, a second-week appearance should be no problem for her.
The Russian opens against Patricia Maria Tig in the first round, with a possible meeting with good friend Lucie Safarova in the second. If she manages to get through the first couple of rounds, the first seeded player she could face is 19th seed Coco Vandeweghe, who does not have clay as her preferred surface. Waiting in the fourth round is second seed Karolina Pliskova, who is having a tricky draw herself.