Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova returned to Linz with a big victory as she defeated Viktoria Kuzmova in straight sets, 7-5 7-5.
It was a hard-fought victory for the more experienced Russian, who initially led by a double break, to go up 4-1. In that passage of play she was finding her targets from the baseline, playing to her strengths and taking on the ball when the short ball presented itself. The match got so much more complicated from that moment onward as Kuzmova showed no fear and played better when taking up the losing position in the scoreboard and really maintained her aggressive brand of tennis to very safe targets. The impressive thing about the young Slovakian’s tennis is her ability to find her spots while staying true to the tennis she was brought up playing and has brought onto the main tour.
Pavlyuchenkova did very well at weathering the Kuzmova storm. The Russian likes to have things under her own control–that is the nature of her style of tennis–but the Slovakian youngster really forced Pavlyuchenkova to earn more of her points in uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and testing positions from deep behind the baseline. It was a true test of the former Top 15 player’s ability to accept that not every point was going to be decided by her own racquet and she had to accept that Kuzmova was going to fight fire with her own fire.
After taking the first set, Pavlyuchenkova showed a bit more assurance and the scoreboard rewarded her for it. But once again from a 4-2 position, the Russian faced an opponent roaring back, and Kuzmova even was two points away from stealing the set at 5-4. The huge issue came at 5-5 for the inexperienced competitor, who served back-to-back double faults to get broken, and those were the fine margins that really decided the match. Pavlyuchenkova lived to fight another day and now moves onto the second round of the tournament in Linz.
“I played better in the end, I guess. That’s all I can say. She was serving unbelievable today and I knew it, because I’ve seen her play before. And I knew she had a great serve, especially indoor. Um, I was just happy that i could manage that break at 5-5 in the second and that helped a lot, because I was struggling a lot more on my serve in the 2nd set than her. So I think that was the key to keep on returning well and guess on where she is serving. That was the key I think.”
Pavlyuchenkova said she was well aware of the threats that Kuzmova posed before the match and was ready for the tight battle that unraveled on the Linz centre court:
“No, not at all. We recently played doubles against each other in the US Open. It was this thriller match, 7-6 in the 3rd or whatever. So I mean, I could kind of see a little bit how she plays. I’ve seen a few matches of her playing singles, so I knew I would have to accept she would just come up with these incredible shots, hitting well and serving well, so you have to accept it and focus on yourself and keep going.”
Pavlyuchenkova is just one of two former champions in the Linz main draw this year, and the Russian talked about keeping things relatively simple and grounded as she realizes there is a lot more work to be done to achieve the same feat she did in 2015 at this very event:
“Yeah, normal. I don’t really think about it. Of course, it is really nice memories. It reminds me when I’m here that ‘okay I won it three years ago’, it feels awesome, but now is a new year, it is a new week and every match is very difficult. So, of course, I would love to repeat it again, but it is still very far ahead.”