Pavlyuchenkova back with renewed ambition

 - Chris Oddo

The former runner-up believes her best tennis is yet to come

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Roland-Garros 2023, first round © Julien Crosnier/FFT

At Roland-Garros in 2021, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova battled through personal doubts and physical issues to set the record for most Grand Slam appearances before reaching a maiden major final, with 52.

She fell in the final that year to Barbora Krejcikova, but came away believing that "the best is yet to come."

A year later her world came crashing down. As the Parisian Slam kicked off in 2022, the former finalist was on the sidelines with a knee injury, not sure if her career was done and dusted. 

“It was a rollercoaster of emotion because I was sad,” she said on Monday. “I wasn't sure what's after, you know… what if I will never come back?” 

Facing a months-long rehab, and five months without picking up a racquet, Pavlyuchenkova wondered if, at nearly 31, she could ever make it back to peak form.  

"I didn't touch my racquet for I think five months," she said. "They didn't let me. The doctors, I was begging them to just let me sit on the chair and hit some balls. My doctor in Munich told me, 'No, no, no, I know how you guys do it. You sit for two minutes and then five minutes after you are running like this.'"

At Roland-Garros 2023, after her 6-2, 6-2 victory over Linda Fruhvirtova on Day 2, Pavlychenkova opened up about her plight, recalling her mindset during her lengthy rehab.

“What if I will never win a match or never be back in good shape? What if that's it, you know?” she said.

Seeking a new peak

Fast forward a year and the former world No. 11 is healthy again, and ready to resume her rise.

“My goal is not only to come back to tennis and just participate,” she said. “I obviously want to be a better version of myself than even when I was two years ago in the peak of my career. So that's my goal now.”

In 2022, Pavlyuchenkova was already in Paris when she decided to pull out of the main draw at Roland-Garros. She ended up sticking around the city to be with friends who had already made plans to watch her play. 

“I stayed with them, and we did a lot of things that we wouldn't [normally] be able to do,” Pavlychenkova said. “So they actually said, ‘It's funny, we're actually happy you're not playing.’

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, first round, Roland-Garros 2023© Julien Crosnier/FFT

Parisian dreams

As she prepares for a second-round clash with compatriot Liudmila Samsonova, the world No.333 is hoping to stay in Paris for as long as she can, even if it crimps her social calendar. 

“I for sure knew that I want to stay as long as possible here because it's a special Grand Slam for me, especially after making the final two years ago.”

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Barbora Krejcivova, final, Roland-Garros 2021© Jean-Charles Caslot/FFT

A page from the Sharapova playbook

Asked about the late-career success of Roland-Garros legend Maria Sharapova, who transformed herself from self-professed "cow on ice" to a well-regarded "queen of clay" and two-time champion in Paris, Pavlyuchenkova says she's hoping to emulate the five-time Grand Slam champion's inspiring adaptability.


"Yeah, that's something I'm trying to also do and evolve and keep on because I'm very open," she said. "I said to my coach, 'Look, I know I'm 30-plus now and not 18 anymore, but I am still open to changes,' basically because I know me coming back this year, I could feel the difference skipping almost a year off, the level of women tennis is pretty high and incredible.

"Every girl is hitting so hard. In Australia I was so late on every ball, and I was, like, 'damn, I'm so, so far away.' Yeah, I think that's also what I'm trying to focus on."