- The Washington Times - Friday, August 3, 2012

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova covered herself with wet towels. Two bags of ice rested on her knees and trainers handed her bottles of Gatorade and water. At that point, she said she was only half-conscious.

Pavlyuchenkova took a medical timeout late into the second set of her semifinal match at Rock Creek Park, during which she met with trainers and changed into a dry outfit. She said her body felt abnormally hot from the moment she started warming up but didn’t truly affect her play until midway through the first set. The high temperature in Washington D.C., was 96 degrees when the match began.

The 21-year-old top seed explained after the match that she had heat illness and difficulty breathing, but even that couldn’t stop her Friday night. Pavlyuchenkova advanced to the Citi Open final after outlasting Vania King, 4-6, 7-5, 6-4, in a match that lasted nearly three hours. She will face Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia at 9 p.m. Saturday night.

“It was ridiculously hot out there. I don’t know seriously how people live here,” Pavlyuchenkova said after the match. “I know what is hot and I know it’s the same for everyone, but today it just hit me. I couldn’t do anything.”

Pavlyuchenkova looked rattled and dejected throughout the match, taking breaks between points to walk behind the baseline and rest her hands on her knees. When she wasn’t trying to catch her breath, she was letting off steam by yelling and throwing her racquet on the ground. King, in contrast, looked stoic and completely in control.

The difference, Pavlyuchenkova said, was the heat.

“It’s very emotional in tennis. It’s physical, it’s mental,” she explained. “So considering the fact that I was half-conscious there, I wasn’t really into the match and I couldn’t get focused. I was suffering a lot and couldn’t really show my best game.”

The No. 28 player in the world was plagued by unforced errors, the byproducts of the risky style that she used in the match. The humidity was so stifling that Pavlyuchenkova tried exclusively to hit winners, thereby avoiding long, drawn-out rallies. Those riskier shots led to more mistakes.

“When you have heat illness, you can’t really play your best tennis,” she said. “I was just trying to go and finish the point early.”

Hours later, Rybarikova clinched her spot in the final by upending crowd favorite and No. 3 seed Sloane Stephens, 6-3, 6-3. The 19-year-old Stephens struggled with her serve throughout the night and finished with 10 double faults, including three in the last five games and one on the final point of the match. The unseeded Rybarikova took advantage of those lost points and turned in an impressive performance.

This week marked Rybarikova’s first trip to Washington D.C., and she is clearly enjoying her stay in the nation’s capital so far. She upset No. 2 seed Chanelle Scheepers on Monday and now finds herself preparing for her first Women’s Tennis Association final of the year.

“It’s for sure better for my confidence that I beat such players,” Rybarikova explained. “Sloane has been playing very good all this season, she’s a very good player, and also Chanelle Scheepers has been playing very good this season. So it’s very good for my confidence.”

That confidence will certainly not be in short supply at the final, which will be only the second women’s singles match played on the Stadium Court this week. Rybarikova said she doesn’t know what to expect from the environment of a primetime championship match, but she sure is happy escape the late afternoon sun. After beating the heat herself, Pavlyuchenkova couldn’t agree more.

“I’m pretty proud of myself today,” she said. “It was really tough conditions and normally, like this year and last year, I would lose this match against [King] for sure. So that shows the improvement, the big step I’ve made.”