Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova finally seals victory in marathon Hong Kong Tennis Open final
Russian star is crowned the new champion after beating Australia’s Gavrilova in a final that was delayed by Typhoon Khanun and finishes way past midnight
It was touch and go for most of the day at Victoria Park as Typhoon Khanun rumbled its way through the city drenching the centre court. Early indications were that it had put paid to any possibility of a resolution to the Prudential Hong Kong Tennis Open on Sunday, but eventually, after lengthy delays, the rain stopped long enough for Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova to be crowned the new champion after a hard-earned 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) win over Daria Gavrilova.
It was a matter of minutes before the organisers’ deadline of 8pm that the conditions were judged to have improved sufficiently enough for tennis to be attempted. Following a concerted effort from an army of tournament staff armed with towels, driers and squeegee mops, centre court finally saw some action at around 9.20pm.
Unsurprisingly, it was a small band of hardy fans who braved the tail-end of the typhoon and made the effort to come out for the finale, but those that did were treated to a thrilling final match.
The champion was appreciative of the fans who stuck around until 1.03am to see the conclusion of the match.
“Thank you all for staying up late,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “We really appreciate it and it’s nice to have a nice crowd, although it’s not so big.”
“It was an amazing and really tough match out there,” she added. “This morning we were ready to share this trophy and I actually think we both deserve this trophy it was a really close match, just I was maybe lucky a bit in the end.”
Pavlyuchenkova struck first. The Russian, making her debut in Hong Kong, was quietly impressive throughout the week, and she flew out of the blocks in the opening set, quickly moving into a 3-0 lead after breaking Gavriolova’s service at the first attempt.
As happened in her semi-final win over Lizette Cabrera, frustrations began to creep into the Gavrilova’s game as she fell behind and struggled to gain a foothold.
However, the Australian belatedly grew into the match, and it was then Pavlyuchenkova who began to make uncharacteristic errors – misjudging simple drop shots and failing to convert easy overhand opportunities that were presented to her.
Gavrilova’s confidence was up and the 23-year-old was soon back in the match after breaking the Russian’s serve and holding.
Gavrilova dropped another game at 4-3 to put the Russian on the verge of taking the opener, but more loose drop shots allowed the world No 22 Australian to seal the comeback with three service breaks in a row to take the opening set.
After handing Gavrilova the opener, Pavlyuchenkova again took a commanding lead in the second set before ceding ground. As in the first, the Russian moved into a 3-0 lead before Gavrilova registered.
Gavrilova took a lengthy medical timeout at 5-2 down, and she re-emerged with her thigh heavily strapped and fought back to hold serve. But at the next opportunity, Pavlyuchenkova saw out the set on her serve and levelled the match.
The third set saw both players bring their very best and treat centre court to a series of quite incredible rallies to decide key points.
It was Gavrilova who blinked first as Pavlyuchenkova broke her serve to edge ahead at 3-2. But the Australian broke back immediately to again level the score in an attritional final set, starting an extraordinary sequence of eight straight breaks of serve.
A seventh game of consummate skill was narrowly claimed by the Russian who again took the lead through a break. But for the fourth game in a row, Gavrilova broke back and levelled matters.
It was looking increasingly like the winner was going to be whoever had the largest reserves of stamina as the match edged towards the three-hour mark. And when Pavlyuchenkova broke again in game nine, she had the finish line in sight and was serving for the match.
A final wind appeared to hand Pavlyuchenkova the decisive upper-hand in the 10th game and the Russian had two championship points to seal the title. But somehow she squandered them to let Gavrilova back into the match.
Then, as Pavlyuchenkova moved clear holding three break points in the next game and it felt like the tension could get no higher, the heavens opened and play was suspended again. One minute shy of three hours, the players left the court with heavy rain beating down as the crowd streamed for the exits, patience finally exhausted.
After a 25-minute suspension, the players re-emerged to conclude the match, and it was Pavlyuchenkova who again broke to move 6-5 ahead.
The Russian couldn’t see the match out on serve, though, and fittingly it moved into a decisive final game to be settled by tiebreak.
In the end, Pavlyuchenkova had just enough left in the tank to seal the win 7-3 in the tiebreaker.
After the match, runner-up Gavrilova thanked the hard core fans who had stuck it out till the end.
“Thank you all for coming and staying up so late, we really did appreciate it,” said the Australian.
“[It was a] tough battle. To be honest, this morning I was like, ‘OK we’re not going to get to play’, and we ended up playing such a long match,” she added.
Elsewhere on Sunday, Taiwanese doubles specialists Chan Hao-ching and Chan Yung-jan thrashed the Chinese duo of Lu Jia-Jing and singles semi-finalist Wang Qiang 6-1, 6-1 in the doubles final.
The Taiwanese sisters, who have enjoyed plenty of doubles success in recent years, were too strong for the Chinese pair and ended their challenge in a brisk 47 minutes.
It’s been a trying week for event organisers, but the final provided a thrilling denouement to the week as Pavlyuchenkova became the fourth different winner of the tournament in four years.