February 3, 2014

The Rebound

It can be tough to muster up energy after a Grand Slam, especially if you didn't put up the performance you were hoping you would. But a couple ladies this weekend found the physical and mental toughness to bounce back after Melbourne and eventually came away with trophies that were a long time coming.

It's hard to believe it had been almost four years since Ekaterina Makarova's first title in Eastbourne, given how her star has risen in the meantime. Though she beat Serena Williams at the Australian Open in 2012, cracked the top twenty a year ago and reached the quarters at two Majors last season, she hasn't been able to claim another crown -- heck, she's never even made another final since 2010. Coming off injury, she survived a first round scare Down Under, but bowed out with a surprisingly unimpressive 6-2, 6-0 loss to eventual champion Na Li a round earlier than in the past.

This past week she came to Pattaya City as the fourth seed in a field of ladies who'd under-performed in Melbourne -- she was only one of two who'd made it past the second round. But she regrouped better than her contemporaries, and while one after the other was eliminated, Makarova was able to fight through one tough match after another. She ultimately faced off against Karolina Pliskova, a woman who'd already taken out two seeds and an on-the-comeback Julia Goerges on her way to the final. The Czech started off this match strong, too, firing off six aces in the opening service game -- ten total for the match -- but Makarova was able to stay stronger. With the only break on her side of the scoreboard, the Russian closed out the match in a tight second set tiebreak, winning the second title of her career. But perhaps more importantly, she ended a reputation of being a spoiler who rarely got to reap the spoils, and something tells me there will be a lot more trophies coming her way.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has claimed a couple more titles during her young career, but since peaking at #13 in the world over two years ago, her profile has fallen a bit. She hasn't gotten past the third round of any Slam since 2011, and though she played in four finals last year, her two crowns came at second tier tournaments. This year she'd retired from her second round in Brisbane, lost an opener in Hobart, and after taking the first set from Aga Radwanska at the Aussie Open, she struggled under pressure and ultimately went home in the first week again.

Pavs wasn't even seeded when she arrived in Paris last week -- four top ten players were originally entered in the draw -- and she was challenged from the start. The young Russian endured five three set matches during the week, fighting back from a set down against former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, ninth-ranked Angelique Kerber, and top seed Maria Sharapova. She lost her opener against Sara Errani in the final too -- after building a 3-1 lead, she lost seven games in a row. She turned the tables, though, winning a stretch of her own, but got down in the decider too. Pavlyuchenkova soldiered up then and remained tougher in the clutch -- after nearly two hours on court, bringing her total for the week to almost ten and a half, she'd secured the biggest trophy of her career and put herself back in the mix against the biggest names in the sport.

With their wins this weekend these ladies might have put themselves in a position to make a play for even bigger success down the road. And what better way to erase some slightly sour memories from their time in Melbourne than by coming back bigger, stronger, and ready for new heights.

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