March 6, 2011

Youth in Revolution

The pressure to defend a title can sometimes be a lot for an up-and-coming player to handle, especially when it's the very first professional trophy she's ever won. But this week in Monterrey, teen sensation Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova proved that her championship run in Mexico last year was no fluke, and that maybe she's got the talent to ruffle some feathers among the top ranks of the sport.

Currently the youngest player in the top fifty, the nineteen-year-old Russian is coming off her best year ever, following up her maiden title with another in Istanbul and reaching a career high ranking of #14 in the world at the start of 2011. But she fell relatively early in Melbourne and got dealt a tough -- and losing -- draw in Dubai, where she faced fifteenth seed Alisa Kleybanova in the first round.

Back in the stadium where she experienced her first breakthrough, Pavlyuchenkova struggled at the start, needing three sets to get through qualifier Eleni Daniilidou in her opener and was pushed to tiebreaks against both Melanie Oudin and veteran Greta Arn. She was much cleaner against last week's Acapulco champ Gisela Dulko in the semis, but given the amount of time she spent on court this week I worried she might be a little tired by the time she reached the finals.

On the opposite side of the court today was a resurgent Jelena Jankovic, a woman whose recent troubles have been no secret, but just days away from defending the biggest trophy she's won recently, she was finally putting together impressive wins over much more consistent players. As the top seed in Monterrey she dumped serve just a handful of times and didn't drop a set on her way to Sunday's match. I admit I was starting to have my faith in the former #1 restored.

Jankovic got off to a solid start against her young opponent, handily outserving Pavlyuchenkova in the first set and only allowing three points on her own serve. But the Russian rebounded in the second as the more experienced Jelena began to lose control on her service games. By the time the set score was evened, you had to think momentum had shifted to the teen. Though they stayed close to start the third, Anastasia rattled off four games in a row, eventually winning the match in just over two hours, and keeping her record in finals a perfect 3-0.

It's not often you see someone so young and relatively under-the-radar prove she has the strength and courage to fight her way through some big opponents time and again. And though she's just a hair off her career high ranking, something tells me Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova may find a way to make this year even better than the last.

And heading into some of the biggest tournaments of the season, there's no better time to show us all just what she's got.

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