Seven of the 10 Russians in the field at the St Petersburg Ladies Trophy made it into the quarters on Thursday, led by top-seeded Ekaterina Alexandrova, with Romania’s Jaqueline Cristian the only non-Russian in the last 8.
After Abu Dhabi, when I beat Pliskova, I didn’t do well at some simple ITF tournaments so this was a very important match for me. I just reminded myself to beat high level players. Anastasia Gasanova
Daria Kasatkina, Veronika Kudermetova, and Anastasia Gasanova all claimed their wins in final-set tiebreaks while Margarita Gasparyan won in straight sets, all joining tour veterans Vera Zvonareva and Svetlana Kuznetsova, who earned their spots on Wednesday.
Qualifier Gasanova rallied from behind to upset 5th-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 1-6 7-6(8) 7-6(4) despite being ranked 196 places lower at No 241.
“I didn’t expect that so many people would support me,” she said in her post-match press conference. “I think my opponent is more famous, so they probably liked her more, and I was very surprised.”
Gasanova chose tennis over figure skating when, at 9 years old, she learned that judges would ultimately determine her fate on the ice.
Now 21 she has been earning high marks all week and saved 3 match points to get past Pavlyuchenkova, earning her first WTA quarter-final.
Gasanova began 2021 with a stunning win over former World No 1 Karolina Pliskova.
“After Abu Dhabi, when I beat Pliskova, I didn’t do well at some simple ITF tournaments,” she explained, “so this was a very important match for me. I just reminded myself to beat high level players.”
Pavlyuchenkova is the World No 13 and a 6-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist, but has struggled for consistency to start this season, winning back-to-back matches just once in her first 6 tournaments.
Still, the 29-year-old shook off an opening break to secure the next 6 games, saving 5 break points in a titanic 5th game to serve out the first set with an ace.
Gasanova responded in impressive fashion, racing ahead 3-0 and then 5-2 before Pavlyuchenkova levelled proceedings, saving a set point on her own serve.
Battling through a dramatic tiebreak, the qualifier turned on her ankle and fell to the court as Pavlyuchenkova earned a pair of match points.
Down, but not out, Gasanova out-rallied the No 5 seed on both, and saved a 3rd with a solid serve, forcing a final set with the help of some exceptional defence.
Initially up a double break in the decider, Gasanova played a poor game when she served for the match, tossing in 3 double-faults and missing a match point opportunity.
Undaunted, she served her way into another breaker and made no mistake in converting her 3rd match point with a service winner to earn another career milestone.
“I’m feeling like I did everything today, and I’ll do all that I can to recover for tomorrow,” she said.
Awaiting her in the next round is the ageless veteran Zvonareva, a former World No 2 whose Wednesday encounter with Fiona Ferro took 6 minutes longer than Gasanova’s win over Zavatska, to reach her first WTA quarter-final in two years.
While top seed Alexandrova cruised to a 6-3 6-4 win over Czech Tereza Martincova, 2nd-seeded Kudermetova needed nearly 3 hours to overcome Russian qualifier Kamilla Rakhimova, 7-5 3-6 7-6(5), in the nightcap match of the day.
“Of course, I’m really happy about the win today, I think Kamilla played really well today,” Kudermetova said. “She fought for every ball and it was a really tough match for me.”
This battle was relatively brief for the event, taking a mere 2 hours 53 minutes to eke out the win as Kudermetova made her first quarter-final since a run to the final at the 2021 season-opening event in Abu Dhabi.
Rakhimova held a point to take a 4-1 lead in the opening set before Kudermetova charged all the way back, collecting the one-set lead with a forehand winner.
Regrouping, Rakhimova won the last 3 games of the second set to level the match.
With another protracted battle in the offing, Kudermetova took a quick 2-0 lead but was broken back in the very next game, and there were no more service breaks as the pair moved into the 3rd-set breaker in which 5 of the last 6 points went against serve until the 2nd seed closed out the win after a netted return by Rakhimova.
“I had a little bit more experience, and in the tiebreak I really tried to play more aggressive than before, and I think that was the key,” said Kudermetova, who takes on Kasatkina for a place in the semi-finals.
Kasatkina, the No 8 seed, delivered a similarly epic thriller earlier in the day, surviving against her good friend Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus, 5-7 6-3 7-6(2).
She eventually got past her mercurial opponent, who ran hot and cold with her ball-striking, and a barrage of 46 winners took the Belarusian to the brink of victory when she served for the match at 6-5 in the final set.
Despite trailing for almost the whole match, Kasatkina’s tenacity and tactical adjustments kept her in the hunt after Sasnovich got off to a lightning start, boldly taking on drive volleys at every opportunity and showing fortitude of her own.
Though the World No 97 was pegged back from 3-0 to 3-3 and 5-3 to 5-5 in the first set, a hold from 0-40 down at both junctures saw Sasnovich take the 66-minute opening act, sealing it with a forehand winner after a 30-stroke rally.
Kasatkina was sharper in the second, winning her first 11 return points as Sasnovich’s service deflated.
As the former World No 10 pulled into a 5-1 lead, she showed off the full range of her repertoire in essaying a pair of breathtaking forehand slice winners at full stretch.
Sasnovich hit another purple patch then and, although it was too late to save the set, she took her momentum into the decider and captured the first break.
She faced down a match point serving at 4-5, thanks to another daring drive volley, and pushed the match into a deciding breaker in which Kasatkina took two mini-breaks to score her 5th win in her 8th head-to-head matches against Sasnovich.
Earlier on, Gasparyan held off Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic, 6-4 6-4, to give Russia a clean sweep of all four matches played on Thursday, making history as the last time 7 players from one country reached the last 8 of a tour-level event was in 1993, when 7 Americans were in the Oakland quarter-finals.
Two near-identical sets saw the World No 126 forge ahead with the first break, only for Siniakova to break back.
Each time, Gasparyan raised her own game to break the Czech again and serve out each set emphatically.
Pulling off a series of crowd-pleasing single-handed backhand winners down the line, Gasparyan booked her place in her first WTA quarter-final since Luxembourg 2019, and second at 500/Premier level following Moscow 2015.
The 26-year-old’s win also guarantees a home finalist from the top half of the draw where she meets Alexandrova on Friday.