On a day of major upsets at the Australian Open on Sunday, it wasn’t until the early hours of Monday morning that the final one played out when Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova saw off the 5th-seeded Sloane Stephens, 6-7(3) 6-3 6-3.
I always try to play aggressively, Sloane is a great player, such a fighter, she moves super well, so I had to make sure I played aggressive Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova
As a result, the Russian returns to the quarter-finals in Melbourne for the second time in three years.
Unseeded, Pavlyuchenkova ground down the American in the late-night epic that ended at 1.53am
The World No 44 next faces a last-eight clash with another American, Danielle Collins, who emphatically earlier knocked out second seed Angelique Kerber, 6-0 6-2.
“I really appreciated that some of you guys stayed,” said the Russian, who also made the quarter-finals in 2017.
“I heard someone was yawning during the match, though, so I’m sorry. I thought it was quite an exciting match, but anyway, I’m happy I stayed awake.”
Former US Open champion Stephens took an early break in a match that began at 11.23pm on Sunday due to yet another scheduling logjam at the season-opening Grand Slam, but she blew a 4-1 first set lead as Pavlyuchenkova broke back and forced a tiebreak, which the American won 7-3 to take the first set after 61 minutes.
She gained an edge again to open the second, only to give away a double break, allowing the Russian to serve it out after 43 minutes.
The first game of the decider was a 17-minute arm-wrestle that went to deuce 10 times as Stephens fended off 8 break points, prompting cries of ‘hurry up’ from the few remaining spectators.
Stephens’ error rate climbed as the match wore on, and Pavlyuchenkova finally secured the win just short of 2am.
This year’s tournament featured the latest-ever women’s match, when Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza defeated Briton Johanna Konta in a second-round clash that began at 12.30am and ended at 3.12am.
Konta later slammed the scheduleing as dangerous and unhealthy.
Pavlyuchenkova impressed by dismissing No 9 seed Kiki Bertens and the dangerous Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the past week at Melbourne Park.
It was her power that proved decisive the longer the match against Stephens went on, fuelling 46 winners before she claimed the gruelling victory over the 2017 US Open champion.
“I always try to play aggressively, Sloane is a great player, such a fighter, she moves super well, so I had to make sure I played aggressive,” she said.
A disciplined start from Stephens caught the Russian off-guard, as the 25-year-old stormed 3-0 into the ascendancy with effortless power play.
After 21 minutes, Pavlyuchenkova was finally on the scoreboard, and the world No 44 clattered an inside-out forehand winner to apply the pressure.
A fortunate net-cord from a backhand provided the platform for Pavlyuchenkova to restore parity at 4-4 as the clock struck midnight.
A tiebreak was required, and Stephens wrestled away the initiative for 5-3 with a hooked forehand launching cross-court for 5-3, before a barrage of groundstrokes forced the pivotal errors from the Russian.
Stephens, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park in 2013, maintained the momentum to strike a piercing backhand cross-court past Pavlyuchenkova’s reach to consolidate a 2-0 break lead in the second set.
The last meeting between the pair was a three-hour marathon in Beijing, when Stephens prevailed in three sets, and Pavlyuchenkova steeled herself to take this match to its maximum.
The Russian, the 2006 and 2007 girls’ singles champion in Melbourne, reeled Stephens in with brave striking and forays to the net to clinch 6 of the next 7 games to force a decider.
In an astonishing sequence of 26 rallies, Stephens fended off 8 break points in a brutal 20-minute hold to start the final set.
A backhand laser-ed down the line had the American’s team off their feet in celebration after a hold for 1-0, but Pavlyuchenkova was quickly back in control.
The Russian, unseeded at a Grand Slam for the first time since Wimbledon 2015, raced 4-2 into the lead, and then broke to love.
Pavlyuchenkova couldn’t serve out the win, but utilised her destructive returns to edge herself firmly into the quarter-finals.