MELBOURNE: 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(5) 7-6(4) 6-2 win yesterday.
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 two hours and 37 minutes to see off the challenge from the former world number one.
She next meets Garbine Muguruza, who powered into the quarter-finals with a 6-3 6-3 demolition of ninth-seed Kiki Bertens in just 68 minutes.
Muguruza, a former French Open and Wimbledon champion, was unseeded at Melbourne Park and has proved a dangerous floater in the draw, having also thrashed fifth seed Elina Svitolina 6-1 6-2 in the previous round.
Earlier, Anett Kontaveit fought off a spirited challenge from Polish teenager Iga Swiatek to reach her first Grand Slam quarter-final with a 6-7(4) 7-5 7-5 victory.
The Estonian 28th seed saved 12 break points in a see-saw contest on Melbourne Arena as she battled back from a set down to book a last eight meeting with twice Grand Slam champion Simona Halep, who beat Elise Mertens 6-4, 6-4.
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.
The players had equally spilt their 14 previous appearances coming into the fourth-round clash and there was not much separating them on the scoreboard yesterday till the end of the second set on Margaret Court Arena.
German 17th seed Kerber rallied from 5-2 down and a 3-0 deficit in the tiebreaker to win the opening set against Pavlyuchenkova, who hit an incredible 28 winners to 12 unforced errors but still found herself trailing at the end of the set.
The second set had a similar pattern as three-time Grand Slam winner Kerber saved three set points to force a tiebreaker but the Russian 30th seed would not let the chance slip this time and levelled the match with a booming backhand winner.
Three-time Grand Slam champion Kerber, who won at Melbourne Park in 2016, finally ran out of gas as Pavlyuchenkova broke her first two service games in the decider to run up a 4-0 lead.
One last-ditch effort saw Kerber, who saved 13 out of 18 breakpoints she faced, get a break back at 4-2 but it was not enough to stop Pavlyuchenkova from winning the next two games as the Russian served her fourth ace to end the contest.