Five questions with Pavlyuchenkova
She was born in the Russian city of Samara, some 2,500 miles southeast of Moscow, but Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova apparently no longer has ice water flowing through her veins.
"It's cold here -- and windy, too," she said Tuesday of the mid-60s temperatures in Doha, Qatar.
While the ATP World Tour is spread across three continents -- Argentina, The Netherlands and Memphis, Tenn. -- most of the best WTA players appeared this week at the Qatar Total Open. Aside from Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Maria Sharapova and Sabine Lisicki, the rest of the top 20 stepped inside the lines at the Khalifa International Tennis Complex.
You can catch the action from Doha on Wednesday-Friday, starting at 7:30 a.m. on ESPN3.
Like most Russians, Pavlyuchenkova, who now lives in Moscow, has been following the Sochi Olympic Games. It's certainly in her genes. Her grandmother played basketball for the USSR national team; her father Sergey was an Olympic-level canoeist and her mother, Marina, was a swimmer.
At the age of 22, Pavlyuchenkova seems poised to have her best season ever. She's coming off a terrific week, in which she won her sixth singles title in Paris. She defeated former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone in the first round then No. 16-ranked Carla Suarez Navarro in the second. The next three matches were a surprise, as Pavlyuchenkova stunned three top-10 players in succession: Angelique Kerber, Maria Sharapova and then Sara Errani in the final. Pavlyuchenkova dropped the first set in all of those contests before rallying.
She currently finds herself as the top-ranked Russian in the WTA's Road to Singapore, at No. 9, ahead of Sharapova and Ekaterina Makarova. Overall, she's ranked No. 21.
These are the kind of results that were expected of a three-time junior Grand Slam champion. In 2006, Pavlyuchenkova beat Caroline Wozniacki in the Australian Open final, Tamira Paszek in the US Open final and American Madison Brengle in defense of her title in Melbourne.
In 2011, when she rose to her highest career ranking No. 13, Pavlyuchenko reached the quarterfinals of both the French Open and US Open.
ESPN.com chatted with Pavlyuchenkova on Tuesday, some eight time zones ahead of the eastern United States. She had just won her first-round match in Doha over Lucky Loser Tadeja Majeric and was preparing for a doubles match (which she won) with partner Nadia Petrova.
ESPN.com: What does it mean to you to have the Olympics in your country?
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: "I think it's amazing. I'm really proud of having the Olympics in Russia. We're good in winter sports, so this is good for our country. The best part is showing our culture and history to other people, the ones watching around the world and the athletes, too. I was really happy to see Maria [Sharapova] and Elena [Vesnina] carrying the Olympic torch. They both have ties to Sochi, and I think it was a great opportunity to show the good side of Russia."
ESPN.com: Have you gotten to watch the Games on TV?
Pavlyuchenkova: "I am trying, but is difficult with the tennis. Especially, with my dad, who is trying to follow every sport. He calls me from his room and says, 'Are you watching this? Are you watching that?' Obviously, in Doha they're not showing it as much on TV as they are in Russia."
ESPN.com: If you weren't a tennis player, what winter Olympic sport would you choose to do?
Pavlyuchenkova: "Probably snowboarding. My brother [Aleksandr] gave me a snowboard a couple of years ago. I tried it indoors in Moscow and managed to go down the hill, which was very steep. There was lots of falling and my back ached after. I haven't done it again. Tennis and snowboarding don't go together."
ESPN.com: Which Olympic athlete have you been most impressed with?
Pavlyuchenkova: "Oh, I have to say the 15-year-old skater from Russia [gold medalist Julia Lipnitskaia]. Figure skating is so beautiful, and what she did [in the team competition] was incredible. She's a genius, I think. I also find the snowboarding very entertaining."
ESPN.com: You've already won a title this year. What are your goals for the rest of this year?
Pavlyuchenkova: "Listen, I don't like to make goals and look too far ahead, saying, 'I want to be ranked this, or ranked that.' Let's see how the season plays out. I still have to do a lot of work to keep improving. To be honest, I'm a perfectionist. I want to improve every aspect of my game because I can't say I'm perfect in any area."