Defending champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was pushed to her limit against Kirsten Flipkens in the second round Thursday in Linz. Pavlyuchenkova and Flipkens met in the semi-finals of the exact same tournament last year, in which Flipkens took the 2015 Linz champion to three sets, so the Russian knew exactly what to expect from her opponent today.
The eight-time WTA title winner started off slowly in today’s match with the tricky Belgian Flipkens. It had been nearly three days since Pavlyuchenkova had played competitive tennis, as she competed in her first round match on Monday–so she found it difficult to come to grips with the long delay between her matches. She talked about two major factors that made the match a hard-fought win today:
“It was very tricky because I had almost two and a half days off after my first victory here and that is really strange and I think I had a really slow start today. That is one of the reasons and Court No.1 is totally different from Centre and very tough bounces. She is obviously very good and tricky player and I think she is also feeling good on this surface here at this tournament. It really suits her this surface, because of her game. She was mixing it up with slices and the ball did not bounce today at all on that Court one.”
Pavyluchenkova, like all champions do, found a way to grind out the first set even when she was not feeling totally secure with the tennis she was producing. She ended up winning five games in a row to take the first set and put herself in the driver’s seat.
The Russian, who was a fantastic junior in her day, showed great maturity to hold off Flipkens when the match got incredibly tight. Pavyluchenkova led 6-4 *3-2, but eventually held her own to keep her unbelievable indoor record intact and progressed to the quarterfinals safely.
Arriving at a WTA tournament as a defending champion is something that players take great pride in. That is why we see so many players return to tournaments that they have achieved great success at over the years, because of the familiarity of positive accomplishments in their individual success. Pavlyuchenkova was questioned about her mindset going into such a tough tournament, with a difficult field as a defending champion:
“It depends it’s always actually a different feeling. It depends on the tournament and it depends on your personal conditions of how you are. This time I am totally fine and cool with it because I came here to have fun as a defending champion. I’ve had some really good memories from last year. I take it match by match if I can do well that’s great, if not no problem, I just try to do my best and get ready for the last one in Moscow, where it’s my home, so I’m totally cool about it.”
Pavlyuchenkova played a magnificent tiebreak, which was surprisingly straight forward as she extinguished the resolve of Flipkens late in the second set.
Defending the title in Linz would definitely be a major confidence boost for Pavlyuchenkova. The field is considerably tougher than it was last year and a win here would also give her the motivation to pursue another Top 20 finish at the end of the season.
There is incredible competition this week for an International event, but Pavlyuchenkova could push some of the top players to edge because of her credentials on an indoor hard court. Four of her last five WTA finals have all come indoors, including wins in Paris, Linz, and the Kremlin Cup in Moscow. She has flown under the radar because of the inclusion of Garbine Muguruza, Madison Keys, and Dominika Cibulkova in the tournament this year, but maybe she can recreate some of the fabulous tennis that catapulted her to amazing success just twelve months ago.