PARIS: When one last forehand from defending champion Iga Swiatek landed wide in the French Open quarter-finals, Maria Sakkari crouched on Court Philippe Chatrier and bowed her head, relishing the moment.
Sakkari is still two wins away from lifting the trophy, but Wednesday’s victory means she’s already in new territory just like the other three women left in the draw.
Sakkari ended Swiatek's 11-match and 22-set winning streaks at Roland Garros by beating her 6-4, 6-4 Wednesday to guarantee that there will be a first-time Grand Slam champion when the tournament ends.
On Thursday, the 17th-seeded Sakkari plays unseeded Barbora Krejcikova in the semi-finals, and 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova faces unseeded Tamara Zidansek. All four are making their Slam semi-final debuts.
“We are four very good players,” Sakkari said. “Players that can win a title, for sure.”
Krejcikova advanced by eliminating 17-year-old Coco Gauff 7-6 (8-6), 6-3.
This is only the second time in the professional era that there has been four first-time semi-finalists at any major tournament, according to the WTA. It also happened at the 1978 Australian Open.
In the men’s quarter-finals, 13-time champion Rafael Nadal quickly recovered to defeat Diego Schwartzman 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0. Nadal’s semi-final foe will be Novak Djokovic or Matteo Berrettini.
Sakkari, who can become Greece’s first Grand Slam singles champion, and Krejcikova, who is from the Czech Republic, are both 25. Each has won only one tour-level title. Neither had been past the fourth round at a major until now.
Swiatek’s challenge was hobbled by a right thigh injury which needed taping during a medical timeout early in the second set. Her defeat means that Justine Henin remains the last player to defend the women’s title in Paris in 2007.
Greece will have two players in the semi-finals this year after Stefanos Tsitsipas made it to the last four on Tuesday.
Krejcikova knocked out Gauff after saving five set points in the opener and then needing six match points to finish the job.
Gauff, the 24th seed and the youngest quarter-finalist at a major in 15 years, was undone by seven double faults and 41 unforced errors.
“I never really imagined I’d be standing here one day on this court, especially in singles, and being able to win,” said Krejcikova, who had been so paralysed by fear before her last 16 victory over Sloane Stephens that she locked herself in a stadium office and wept.
Nadal, chasing a 14th title in Paris and record-setting 21st Grand Slam, defeated Schwartzman, shrugging off seeing his winning run of 36 consecutive sets at the tournament come to an end.
The 35-year-old Nadal improved his French Open record to 105 wins and two losses as he advanced to his 35th Grand Slam semi-final.
“It’s always incredible for me to return to the semi-finals for another time,” said Nadal. “Diego is such an amazing player with so much talent, today was a very difficult challenge.”
Schwartzman has now been defeated by Nadal in 11 of their 12 meetings, including in the 2020 semi-finals in Paris.
TSITSIPAS FACES ZVEREV
Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev both have been viewed as potential future stars of tennis. Both have come close to Grand Slam titles.
Now the pair of 20-somethings will meet each other for a berth in the French Open final after straight-set quarter-final victories on Tuesday.
It will be the youngest matchup in the men’s semi-finals at Roland Garros since Nadal and Novak Djokovic met in 2008.
The fifth-seeded Tsitsipas reached his fourth major semi-final and third in a row by upending second seed Daniil Medvedev 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5 at Court Philippe Chatrier in the last no-spectator night session of this year’s tournament.
“I feel privileged that Im in that position, and I feel obviously I’ve put in a lot of daily hard work [that] has been a key element of me being here,” the 22-year-old Tsitsipas said. “But, you know, my ego tells me I want more.”
Zverev, who trailed qualifier Oscar Otte by two sets in the first round, has now won 15 sets in a row as he eased into his first French Open semi-final with a 6-4, 6-1, 6-1 win over Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina.
He easily brushed aside the 46th-ranked Davidovich who hit 37 unforced errors and only 16 winners in his first major quarter-final.
“It’s nice to be in the semi-finals, but just being here doesn’t satisfy me,” said the 24-year-old Zverev.
Results (prefix number denotes seeding):
Quarter-final: 3- Rafael Nadal (Spain) bt 10-Diego Schwartzman (Argentina) 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
Quarter-finals: Barbora Krejcikova (Czech Republic) bt 27-Coco Gauff (US) 7-6 (8-6), 6-3; 17-Maria Sakkari (Greece) bt 8-Iga Swiatek (Poland) 6-4, 6-4.
Tuesday’s remaining results:
Quarter-finals: 6-Alexander Zverev (Germany) bt Alejandro Davidovich Fokina (Spain) 6-4, 6-1, 6-1; 5-Stefanos Tsitsipas (Greece) bt 2-Daniil Medvedev (Russia) 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 7-5.
Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2021