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Melbourne | Muguruza sees off Pavlyuchenkova

Melbourne | Muguruza sees off Pavlyuchenkova

Garbiñe Muguruza completed the semi-final line-up of women at the Australian Open on Wednesday, with a straight-sets win over Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, and said her life-changing climb of Mount Kilimanjaro helped inspire her to quarter-final victory.


I came [here] not feeling great. I wasn't really thinking, 'How far will I go? I had enough already thinking, 'How will I go practise today?' I took [one] day at a time ... Each day I was gaining a better feeling - instead of getting frustrated thinking [about] the future. Garbiñe Muguruza

Her progress has even surprised the Spaniard, who contracted a viral illness earlier in the month and has been battling her way through the draw, unseeded for the first time since 2014.

Muguruza was tipped to dominate the women’s game after winning the French Open title in 2016 aged 22 and Wimbledon the following summer, reaching the No 1 ranking in the world, but she has since dropped outside the top 30.

Last season she won only 6 matches across the 4 majors, and the omens were not good when she arrived in Melbourne struggling with illness and lost her opening set of the tournament 6-0 to American Shelby Rogers.

“I came [here] not feeling great. I wasn’t really thinking, ‘How far will I go?'” she explained. “I had enough already thinking, ‘How will I go practise today?’

“I took [one] day at a time … Each day I was gaining a better feeling – instead of getting frustrated thinking [about] the future.”

From there, Muguruza has been inspired, and she won the battle of the big hitters, 7-5 6-3, against Russia’s Pavlyuchenkova, who has now lost all 6 of her Grand Slam quarter-finals.

“I think the toughest moment is when you work hard, work like before, or even harder, and you don’t feel like results are coming fast,” Muguruza said. “Athletes sometimes can get a little bit desperate, get too impatient about it.

“It’s very tough to be, for so many years, in the top of the game, being that consistent. I feel like it’s something super hard to do.

“Barely few players can hold that for many, many years in a row.

“You just have to be patient and go through the rough moments, just hang in there and it will come back again.”

A twist to the plot was that in her contest with Pavlyuchenkova, the Spaniard faced her long-time coach Sam Sumyk.

She has since teamed up again with Conchita Martinez, who led her to the Wimbledon title in a temporary arrangement, and the partnership is proving productive again, so it is no great surprise to see Muguruza in contention again, given the many obvious attributes that she has.

“I think once you have done it, it definitely gives you a certain confidence that you can handle two weeks’ competition, Grand Slam, playing many matches,” said the 26-year-old. “Not a lot of people can say that they have done it.

“In my case, I know it’s where I feel the most motivated. I just don’t think too much about it. I’m just happy to be here, excited to see how far I can go.”

The string of powerful performances in Melbourne has placed her on the brink of the final as she bids to capture her 3rd Grand Slam title, but it was by no means easy and it was possibly her least convincing performance so far.

As for Pavlyuchenkova, she will leave Melbourne wondering how this one slipped through her fingertips, having led by a break in both sets, and yet managed to self-destruct on each occasion.

The Russian’s serve has always been her biggest weakness under pressure, and it was once again her undoing against Muguruza, coughing up 8 double faults, with 3 of them coming as she served to stay in the first set at 5-6, and 2 more as she looked to back up her break at the start of the second, handing the Spaniard a lifeline she gratefully took.

Muguruza was struggling with her own game from the back of the court, committing 21 unforced errors, but Pavlyuchenkova simply couldn’t get the ball in play enough at crucial times to take advantage.

“I definitely adapted to circumstances,” Muguruza said. “Sometimes you don’t feel great but you fight and stay there.

“First set was very hard, I think it lasted about an hour. It was a very important set and I’m happy I got it.”

After the tight, hard-fought battle for the opening set, Muguruza managed to find another level to close out the match with confidence in the second.

Now looking back to full health, the Spaniard’s tennis has caught fire again and she followed up her back-to-back Top 10 wins over No 5 seed Elina Svitolina and No 9 Kiki Bertens by overcoming Pavlyuchenkova.

“It definitely has been from low to high, not starting at my best, then each day recovering,” she said considering her fallow period.

“I would say I think those years were less successful if you compare them to my previous years. That’s how I see it. I don’t see it at all as a coma.

“I just think you struggle as a player, and there are moments where things don’t go your way.

“You just have to be patient and go through the rough moments, just hang in there and it will come back again.”

Muguruza was down a break twice in the closely contested opening set, which lasted 57 minutes.

Under pressure from Pavlyuchenkova in her opening service games, a double fault from Muguruza handed over the first break to give the Russian a 2-1 lead but she broke right back to level at 2-2, both players attacking the ball aggressively.

The pair traded breaks once again, with Muguruza fighting her way back to make it 4-4 after a marathon game and she raised her level at a crucial time to break at 7-5 and avoid a tiebreak.

Pavlyuchenkova reacted strongly to open the second set with a break, but with Muguruza was now dialled in, and her lead didn’t last long as the Spaniard broke straight back.

Stepping into the court and turning up the aggression, Muguruza dictated the rallies and didn’t face a break point for the rest of the match, taking the decisive lead at 4-2, and serving out the match after an hour and 35 minutes to round out the final four.

The Venezuelan-born player says her upturn in form may well have been a result of what she described as a ‘life-changing’ experience as she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro, and reuniting with former mentor and fellow Grand Slam winner Martinez.

“I’m in a tournament, at this stage, it’s not the right moment [to fully explain],” she said. “I will definitely share my experience. I think it’s fun to hear.”

In the semi-finals on Thursday, Muguruza will take on former World No 1 Halep, who blasted past Anett Kontaveit earlier in the day, and admitted she has a tough test on her hands.

Halep is the reigning Wimbledon champion but Muguruza owns the head-to-head edge over her with 3 wins to 2, all her victories coming on hard courts.

“She’s a very solid player. She’s played very consistency through all these years,” Muguruza, also a former World No 1, observed. “It’ll be a tough match. That’s the case no matter when you play the Top 5.

“It’s a semi-final, so of course I’m expecting her to bring her best game.

“[I’m] excited to play another battle against her.”

The other semi is between current World No 1 Ash Barty and Sofia Kenin.

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