Zidansek, Pavlyuchenkova set up surprise French Open semifinal with epic wins

Paris, Jun 8 (EFE).- Only die-hard tennis fans knew their names before the tournament started.

But Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek and Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova have defied the odds and now are the only players left in the bottom half of the French Open women’s singles draw.

The 23-year-old Zidansek, who had never before advanced past the first round at Roland Garros and never reached the second week of any Grand Slam event, has held her nerve admirably thus far in Paris and on Tuesday scored her second marathon victory of the fortnight – a 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 quarterfinal win over Spain’s Paula Badosa.

The shortest player left in the tournament, the 1.67-meter (5-foot-6) Zidansek struggled to hold serve, as expected, against the big-hitting Badosa but managed to win the match on the strength of her return game and more aggressive play from the baseline.

The Slovenian fell behind 3-0 at the outset and lost her serve three times in the first set, yet she ended up winning more than her share of the baseline exchanges and grabbed her fourth break of the set when Badosa made an unforced error on set point.

Zidansek’s struggles on serve continued in the second set as she lost eight of her nine second-serve points and was broken three more times.

But the world No. 85 had a 26-18 edge in winners heading into the decider and that trend continued in the final set, with Zidansek striking 22 winners to Badosa’s 13 in rallying from a early deficit and finally claiming victory in two hours and 26 minutes to become Slovenia’s first-ever Grand Slam semifinalist.

“It feels overwhelming,” Zidansek, who narrowly defeated 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in a three-hour, 20-minute marathon in the first round, said afterward. “It’s hard to take it in like this fast. Speaking about nerves today … it was a great opportunity for the both of us to get into the semifinals, but I guess I managed to keep my composure today a little bit better than her.”

The 23-year-old Badosa, who has had a breakout season in 2021 and climbed from No. 70 at the start of the year to No. 35, said for her part that she was unable to manage her nerves in her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal.

In Tuesday’s second women’s singles match, the 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova finally reached a Grand Slam final four after falling just short on six previous occasions at the quarterfinal stage.

In a contest of heavy hitters, the 32nd-ranked Russian leveraged her greater experience to eke out a 6-7 (2-7), 6-2, 9-7 victory over Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina.

Rybakina, who had upset three-time champion Serena Williams in the fourth round, struck 22 winners en route to grabbing the opening set in a tiebreaker.

Pavlyuchenkova, however, fired back on the strength of one dominant service game after another in the second set, not facing a single break point and winning 80 percent of both her first-serve and second-serve points.

Almost nothing separated the two players down the stretch.

Each woman broke the other’s serve on two occasions over the first six games, but that was followed by seven straight service holds.

The 22nd-ranked Rybakina, however, finally faltered when serving at 7-8 in the final set, with Pavlyuchenkova setting up match point with a forehand winner and then finally getting past the finish line when the 21-year-old Kazakh player committed her sixth double fault.

“Of course I’m happy, but I feel like I’m doing my work, I’m doing my job, and there is still matches to go through, still work to be done,” the Russian said after winning her first-ever Grand Slam quarterfinal. “I just look at this like that. I’m trying to enjoy this moment as much as I can but not giving so much importance.”

Pavlyuchenkova and Zidansek will square off on Thursday, while matches pitting Polish defending champion Iga Swiatek against Greece’s Maria Sakkari and American teen sensation Cori Gauff against the Czech Republic’s Barbora Krejcikova will determine the other two women’s singles semifinalists. EFE


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