Belinda Bencic is 3-6 in WTA finals but 3-1 against her opponent in Sunday’s Kremlin Cup final, 2014 Moscow champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
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With her WTA Finals place secured, can Belinda Bencic cap a brilliant week by winning her fourth career title at the Kremlin Cup in Moscow as she faces Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova on Sunday?
Bencic’s quest to secure the last remaining spot at the season-ending championships hit a snag when she lost to world no. 166 Anna-Lena Friedsam, a qualifier, in the first round of Linz last week but the 22-year-old has bounced back in tremendous style in Moscow. After a gritty opening win over Polona Hercog, Bencic’s task became crystal clear when Kiki Bertens lost in the quarterfinals to Kristina Mladenovic: If she, Bencic, could win two more matches to make the final in Moscow, there would be nothing Bertens could do to stop Bencic taking the last Shenzhen place.
Although the first set against Kirsten Flipkens in yesterday’s quarterfinals was extremely tight, winning that match was an easier task than facing Mladenovic in Saturday’s semifinals given that Bencic had lost her last three matches against the Frenchwoman. Mladenovic, looking for her fifth top-10 win of the season, has been playing some great tennis in Moscow but she had also spent a lot longer on court than Bencic – playing three matches to two, of course, with each match going the distance – and whether fatigue or something else was responsible, she failed to bring the same focus and intensity that Bencic produced.
The Swiss player broke immediately to lead 3-0 and although Mladenovic came back to 3-3, throughout the match Bencic’s aggressive returning would pay dividends, constantly sowing doubt in Mladenovic’s mind and pressuring her big but erratic serve. Bencic won the last three games of the set and after an early exchange of breaks in the second, controlled the set in similar fashion, applying consistent pressure in Mladenovic’s service game until the task of saving break points in every game became too much for the Frenchwoman and Bencic was able to break and serve out the match.
Bencic danced for joy after converting match point and ran to hug her coach as she celebrated qualifying for Shenzhen.
‘It’s very difficult to play her. I think she’s really starting to play better again. Today, I think approached the match a little bit differently, I was only focusing on myself and what I had to do,’ Bencic said.
‘I stepped up my game when I had to, just really focused on myself – which is easy to say but harder to do – and just keep my emotions under control, because obviously this [qualifying] was a big goal and I knew it was just one match away, and it was a unique opportunity.’
A debut at the WTA Finals – a milestone for any player – awaits, but Bencic still has a job to do in Moscow as she tries to capture her second title of 2019 in her third final of the season.
Champion at the Kremlin Cup in 2014 and runner-up to Svetlana Kuznetsova the following year, Pavlyuchenkova has been unable to get past the quarterfinal stage in her last three appearances in Moscow, losing to Daria Gavrilova in 2016 and Daria Kasatkina in 2017-18.
Fortunately for the 28-year-old, she hasn’t had to face anybody named Daria this year. Pavlyuchenkova, who made her fifth Grand Slam quarterfinal at the Australian Open in January and defeated Kiki Bertens and Angelique Kerber to reach the final of the Premier-level Toray Pan Pacific Open in Osaka last month, may be, at world no. 40, quite some way off her 2011 ranking of world no. 13, but she is still a tremendously dangerous player when she gets on a roll and she clearly enjoys playing at home, because she has been digging out tough wins all week. Against Maria Sakkari and qualifier Varvara Gracheva in the first two rounds, Pavlyuchenkova came back from a set down to win in three; she ended the run of Veronika Kudermetova, who had ousted top seed Elina Svitolina, in a very tight quarterfinal, winning 7-6(5), 7-5.
Pavlyuchenkova looked on course for another win in tight straight sets against Wimbledon quarterfinalist Karolina Muchova in the semifinals, serving for the match at 6-4, 5-4 – but Muchova not only broke back and pushed the set to a tie-break, she saved two match points in the tie-break before taking the set herself. Undaunted, Pavlyuchenkova dominated the third to win 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-1 and return to the Moscow final for the first time in four years.
Bencic has a 3-1 lead in the head-to-head against Pavlyuchenkova, beating her on indoor hard courts in St Petersburg in 2016 and in their only more recent encounter at Wimbledon this summer, 6-2, 6-3, while Pavlyuchenkova’s only win over the Swiss player came on outdoor hard courts in Washington, D.C. in 2015. Against that must be balanced the fact that Pavlyuchenkova has a 12-7 record in WTA Tour finals while Bencic is 3-6.
Bencic acknowledged herself that she tends to get nervous in finals, but said she doesn’t think she will on Sunday because she has already secured her Shenzhen spot. Regardless, the way she has been returning this week, she will be able to get the win over Pavluyuchenkova and crown a brilliant week by claiming the title.
Bencic vs Pavlyuchenkova Kremlin Cup tennis is live from Moscow on Sunday at 3pm local/1pm BST
Bencic vs Pavlyuchenkova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Bencic out to crown perfect week with Kremlin Cup title
Belinda Bencic is 3-6 in WTA finals but 3-1 against her opponent in Sunday’s Kremlin Cup final, 2014 Moscow champion…
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