TORONTO – A new face appeared in Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s player box at the Rogers Cup in Toronto this week.
It was Toronto native Rob Steckley, who did such great work for many years with Pavlyuchenkova’s friend and longtime doubles partner, the now-retired Lucie Safarova.
We’re told that Pavlyuchenkova has asked Steckley to be there during the North American hard-court swing, including Cincinnati next week and the US Open.
That’s not firmed up yet. We’ll keep you posted if we get an update.
Pavlyuchenkova had a terrific win over No. 9 seed Aryna Sabalenka in the first round in Toronto. Sabalenka, who made her move a year ago during this hard-court swing, has struggled in 2019 but reached the final in San Jose last week.
She then went down to Jelena Ostapenko – another player who has struggled in 2019 – in three sets in the second round. It was a shame, because next up for the winner was qualifier Marie Bouzkova. That’s a nice draw for a third round at a Premier 5 tournament.
Incredible junior career –> good pro career
A former No. 1 junior, Pavlyuchenkova seemed a sure thing to roll straight to the top of the women’s game. Her singles record at the ITF junior level was 131-23. And it was a quality era, as well.
Among the players she squared off against were Halep, Wozniacki, Radwanska, Cibulkova, Cornet and Oudin.
She won the Australian Open junior singles twice, the US Open and was a finalist at the French Open. The Russian also won six junior Grand Slam titles.
Pavlyuchenkova reached her career-high WTA ranking of No. 13 the day after her 20th birthday. But that was all the way back in 2011. And yet, she has never dropped out of the top 50 since she first entered it all the way back in Oct. 2008.
Although she has finished seven of the last nine seasons ranked in the top 30 (and not that far out of that during the other two), her skill level would indicate she should have been better.
Taking that next step
The Russian has a streak of 46 consecutive Grand Slam appearances going all the way back to the 2008 French Open. She has made five quarterfinals in that span. She also has lost in the first round 12 times since the 2013 Australian Open.
Pavlyuchenkova lost in the first round of both the French Open and Wimbledon this year.
Connected with the Mouratoglou Academy earlier in her career, Pavlyuchenkova has had a number of coaches in recent years including Joakim Nystrom, Dieter Kindlmann, Thomas Drouet and David Goffin’s brother, Simon. She also has worked periodically with her older brother Alexander, whom she says had far more talent than she, but made some bad choices.
Steckley-Safarova summer turned into more
There’s a certain symmetry to this prospective collaboration.
Seven long years ago, a younger Steckley, who hadn’t had much experience coaching at the top level, “stepped in” for Safarova’s longtime coach Biljana Veselinovic at this same Rogers Cup tournament.
That year, it was in Montreal. It wasn’t a long-term thing – just a temporary substitution.
But not long after, when Safarova was looking for a full-time coach a little over a year alter, she went with Steckley. And he help her to reach the best heights of her career.
Safarova reached her career-high singles ranking of No. 5 after the 2015 US Open. She reached the French Open final that year, and the Wimbledon semis in 2014. She also won five Grand Slam doubles titles with Bethanie Mattek-Sands.
From the fall of 2018 until after Miami, Steckley coached Canadian Denis Shapovalov – his first major dive onto the men’s side.