Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova goes in search of a third straight win over Svetlana Kuznetsova this year when the pair collide in the BNP Paribas Open quarter-finals at Indian Wells on Wednesday.
A tremendous opportunity looms in the top half of the women’s draw at the BNP Paribas Open, with one of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Karolina Pliskova or Garbine Muguruza set to reach the Indian Wells final. On Wednesday the first quarter-final will be played - and it will be an all-Russian affair as Pavlyuchenkova and Kuznetsova square off for the ninth time. After reaching back-to-back finals in the Californian desert in 2007 and 2008, Kuznetsova is appearing in her first Indian Wells quarter-final since, while Pavlyuchenkova is competing in the last eight for the first time since bursting onto the scene at the BNP Paribas Open all the way back in 2009 - her first appearance at the tournament. A chance for the Premier Mandatory level title is there for both players, but which Russian will make it through to the semi-finals?
A former World No. 2 and a two-time grand slam champion, Kuznetsova returned to some of her brilliant best form in 2016, finishing inside the top 10 for the first time since 2009.
Kuznetsova captured her 16th and 17th WTA titles at Sydney and Moscow, finished runner-up at the Miami Open, made the semi-finals at Prague, Wuhan and Tianjin and the quarter-finals of Rome, Montreal and Cincinnati - an extremely consistent and solid season which saw her qualify for the season-ending WTA Finals Singapore, where she reached the semi-finals for the first time in her career before losing to eventual champion Dominika Cibulkova.
With that resurgence now in the past, it hasn’t been the most joyous of starts to 2017 for Kuznetsova, at least leading up to the BNP Paribas Open. She was bundled out of the quarter-finals in Brisbane before falling to her Indian Wells opponent Pavlyuchenkova in the second round of Sydney - where she was defending champion - and the Round of 16 at the Australian Open. A loss to Yulia Putintseva in the quarter-finals of St. Petersburg followed, but the veteran Russian is certainly playing the best tennis of her season right now at Indian Wells.
Kuznetsova has dropped just one set on her way to the quarter-finals - a Round of 32 6-2 2-6 6-1 win over Roberta Vinci - either side of straight sets wins over Johanna Larsson and in the Round of 16 against the dangerous Caroline Garcia. Can Kuznetsova keep her momentum going and avenge her two 2017 losses to Pavlyuchenkova when they meet in the quarter-finals?
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
After a brief dip in form during last month’s Middle Eastern swing in Doha and Dubai, Pavlyuchenkova has returned to her great form from the Australian summer in Indian Wells.
Like Kuznetsova, Pavlyuchenkova has stormed into the quarter-finals with the loss of just one set, defeating Anett Kontaveit 6-4 6-4, Barbora Strycova 6-3 6-2 and Dominika Cibulkova 6-4 3-6 6-2 on Tuesday. Pavlyuchenkova was on song from the baseline, blasting 35 winners to just 23 unforced errors, while at the same time restricting the usually aggressive Cibulkova to just 15 winners.
"The key was to, of course, be aggressive, which is my game, but at the same time, find the balance between being aggressive and not giving her a lot of easy shots," Pavlyuchenkova said after the match. "Because she's great fighter, and she's always there.
"I know when she's down in the score, she's going for the shots."
Quite remarkably, Pavlyuchenkova is gunning for her first WTA semi-final - at any level - since 2015 at Indian Wells. Known as a giant-killer on tour - she has 22 career wins over top 10 opponents and eight over top five rivals - Pavlyuchenkova advanced to seven quarter-finals in 2016 - Brisbane, St. Petersburg, Acapulco, Wimbledon, Montreal, Linz and Moscow - but didn’t win any of them. She’s added quarter-final finishes at Sydney and the Australian Open to her list so far in 2017, meaning she’s on a nine-match losing run in quarter-finals. Can she snap that streak on Wednesday?
Kuznetsova leads their H2H at 5-3 - but crucially and relevantly, Pavlyuchenkova has won both their 2017 meetings in straight sets. But now this whole quarter-final hoodoo comes into play, making this match-up even tougher to call. The slower courts at Indian Wells favour Kuznetsova, and she’s been playing very well this week as a result, especially in her last win over Garcia. It’s a toss-up, but I might lean with Kuznetsova for that very reason, as well as taking into account Pavlyuchenkova’s struggles at quarter-final stages.