Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has expressed admiration for former Russian tennis pro Maria Sharapova.
After a knee injury sidelined Pavlyuchenkova for most of the 2022 season, she returned to action earlier this year. On her comeback, she won her first tour-level matches in Madrid and Rome. She reached the Strasbourg quarterfinals last week after upsetting Magda Linette, her first top 30 win since defeating Elena Rybakina in the 2021 French Open quarterfinals.
Pavlyuchenkova is currently in action at the Paris Major, where she defeated Czech teenager Linda Fruhvirtova 6-2, 6-2 in her opening match. The World No. 333 hit 26 winners to 14 unforced errors and advances to advance to the second round, where she will face 15th seed Liudmila Samsonova.
At a press conference after the match, Pavlyuchenkova was asked about her views on how her compatriot Sharapova adapted her game to become a strong claycourt player. The 31-year-old made no secret of her admiration for the former World No. 1's fighting spirit and character, and called her a 'special athlete'.
"Maria Sharapova, she's Maria Sharapova. For me it's just like in tennis or every sport, there are some special athletes who you have, and they will never be replaced or copied or, you know. So she's one of them for me for sure. I think for me I always admired. I was impressed by her fighting spirit and character," she said.
"Dealing with -- I still believe all the pressure that she had and the attention, that was amazing. Also obviously that was also inspiring seeing her because she's very tall, so that makes it more difficult I think playing on clay. Just how she was always fit most of the time when she was playing, especially Grand Slams," she added.
Early in her career, Sharapova was not a fan of playing on claycourts. At the 2007 French Open, she said that she felt like a “cow on ice” when playing on clay.
"I feel like a cow on ice. Especially on clay. I don't play on clay for the other 10 months of the year. It's not as natural for me," she said.
However, Sharapova mastered the surface later on and her win-loss record (56-12, 82%) at Roland Garros is much better than the other three Grand Slams. After never going past the semifinals in Paris Major till 2011, she made it to the final from 2012 to 2014, winning twice.
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova takes inspiration from Maria Sharapova, open to making changes to her game
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova further acknowledged how Maria Sharapova adjusted her game to suit the red dirt and called it 'inspiring'.
"You could see she [Maria Sharapova] was trying to adjust and change her game. That's inspiring. Yeah, that's something I'm trying to also do and evolve and keep on because I'm very open," she said.
Pavlyuchenkova also stated that she was looking to adapt her game to suit the 'high and incredible' level of tennis on the WTA Tour currently.
"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," she disclosed.
"I mean, 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," she added.