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By Tennis Now | Saturday, September 23, 2017

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova saw her one set, 5-2 lead dissipate to a scrappy Angelique Kerber.

Down love-3 in the decisive set, Pavlyuchenkova had a flash of her immediate future.

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“I was actually thinking about going to Wuhan,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “In my head, I was booking flights. At the same time I always fight to the last point, the last moment. If she would win, it’s tennis, you know.”

Instead, the Russian responded with a powerful flight plan.

Pavlyuchenkova reeled off six of the last seven games outdueling Kerber, 6-0, 6-7 (4), 6-4, a wild Tokyo thriller that launched her into her third final of the season.

Tearing through eight straight games to open the match, Pavlyuchenkova withstood the resilient former No. 1 raising her record vs. Top 20 opponents to 8-6 this season.

The Russian remains semi-tough winning all three semifinals she’s played this year and scoring her fourth three-set win of this week.

“It was a lot of drama this match I think from both sides,” Pavlyuchenkova said. “I didn’t expect I would start so good. I was playing really good tennis…

“I have to give credit to Angelique—she is a great fighter. I think it was a great match. I’m really happy to be in the finals here.”

It’s the third final of the season for Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated Kerber in the Monterrey final and dispatched 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the Rabat final.

The 23rd-ranked Russian will play defending champion Caroline Wozniacki in the final.

Former No. 1 Wozniacki needed only an hour to dismiss world No. 1 GarbiƱe Muguruza, 6-2, 6-0, in the second semifinal.

"There are some tournaments where you just feel good and do well almost every year and, for me, this is one of them," said Wozniacki, who charged into her seventh final of 2017. "I thought I played a good match today."

Trouble tested the Russian in the opening game. Pavlyuchenkova saved a pair of break points with aggression, swatting a smash on the first and carving out a fine drop shot to deny the second navigating a tough hold.

That game liberated the power baseliner, who fired a forehand winner down the line to break for 2-0. Kerber decelerated clanking a pair of double faults and Pavlyuchenkova pounded another forehand breaking again for 4-0.

A tight Kerber slapped a forehand into the tape to face triple set point. Pavlyuchenkova pounded a forehand down the line breaking at love in force-feeding a disconsolate Kerber the bagel in 19 minutes.

Pavlyuchenkova more than tripled Kerber’s winner output (11 to 3) and struck with the clarity of a woman who knew she could dictate rallies.

The former world No. 1 could not create the necessary width to displace the power player from the center of the court. Pavlyuchenkova tomahawked a return down the line rattling out her fourth break and eighth straight game for a 2-0 second-set lead.

Down 40-love in the ensuing game, Kerber used her legs, scrappiness and angles to scrape out a break and stop her slide.

The seventh-seeded German took a medical timeout for an apparent left forearm strain.

Returning to court with a swath of adhesive tape wrapping her arm right below the elbow, Kerber saved a break point at the 43-minute mark and held strong.

“She’s a former number one, she’s not going to give it to you,” Pavlyuchenkova’s coach told her after the fifth game.

Continuing to attack, the Russian followed a stinging forehand down the line forward blasting a backhand drive to break for 4-2. Pavlyuchenkova stretched the lead to 5-2 and served for the final at 5-3, but tightened up. A pair of double faults and a netted swing volley gifted the break.

Still, Pavlyuchenkova was three points from the final up 4-3 in the tie break. She dissolved with two errant forehands and a backhand return long as Kerber gained double set point. Sliding a serve down the T, Kerber snatched a one hour, 13-minute set that seemed out of her reach moments earlier to force a decider.

Rushing through her first service game of the final set, a rattled Pavlyuchenkova began slapping flat shots. She rattled her ninth double fault donating the break and a 2-0 lead to Kerber.

Another daring drop shot followed by a rousing return helped Pavlyuchenkova break back for 2-3. The drop shot and lob combination yielded rewards again as the 26-year-old drew level.

Net play proved pivotal. Pavlyuchenkova swatted a swing volley then carved a forehand volley winner for her fourth consecutive game and a 4-3 lead.

Serving for the final again, Pavlyuchenkova drilled a bold backhand down the line for double match point. On her second match point, Pavlyuchenkova snuck in and slide a backhand volley down the line to close a gripping two hour, eight-minute victory.


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