PARIS: Tour veteran Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova endured long stretches where she didn’t enjoy tennis, and because her consistency and confidence were so elusive she considered calling it a career.
Her persistence paid off on Thursday, when the 29-year-old Russian advanced to her first Grand Slam final by beating unseeded Tamara Zidansek at the French Open, 7-5, 6-3.
Pavlyuchenkova, seeded 31st, is playing in her 52nd major tournament and her 14th French Open. She had been 0-6 in major quarter-finals before finally surmounting that hurdle on Tuesday, and she was steadier than the big-swinging Zidansek in their semifinal.
“I wanted this so much that right now I don’t feel anything,” Pavlyuchenkova told the crowd in French.
Pavlyuchenkova was a top 20 player as a teen, but only now will she play for a major title against the winner of the second semi-final between 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece and unseeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.
It was only the second time in the professional era that there were four first-time Grand Slam women semi-finalists at a major tournament and the first time since the 1978 Australian Open.
Even so, the quality of play in the first match was as enjoyable as the warm, cloudless weather. The 85th-ranked Zidansek, who this week became the first Slovenian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final, was the better player for much of the first set, moving well and hitting the more aggressive groundstrokes.
But Pavlyuchenkova won the most important points, and Zidansek dumped consecutive shaky serves into the net to lose the set.
Pavlyuchenkova’s groundstrokes carried more sting in the second set as she raced to a 4-1 lead. Her first sign of nerves came as she double-faulted twice, including on break point, to make it 4-3, but she broke back and easily served out the victory.
“Tennis is such a mental sport,” she said. “That's what is really hard about tennis.
Pavlyuchenkova, who has won 12 tour titles, will climb back into Top 20 next week for first time since January 2018.
DJOKOVIC V NADAL FOR 58TH TIME
On Wednesday night, Novak Djokovic set up a 58th meeting with Rafael Nadal when he reached his 40th Grand Slam semi-final.
World number one Djokovic defeated Italy’s Matteo Berrettini 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5/7), 7-5 to book his place in the Paris semis for the 11th time.
With Djokovic’s match extending beyond the national 11pm curfew, play was halted for around 20 minutes at 3-2 in the fourth set so that 5,000 fans could be funnelled out of Court Philippe Chatrier.
Djokovic eventually claimed the match on a third match point but only after he had kicked out at an advertising board in frustration at missing the first two.
“It was a release of all the emotions I had kept inside me,” said Djokovic who hit 44 winners and saved all three break points he faced.
“After all the fans left and the little break it wasn’t easy to find rhythm. It was really a very difficult match for me.”
Friday’s semi-final will be the eighth match between Djokovic and Nadal at Roland Garros where the Spaniard has a commanding 7-1 advantage.
That includes last year’s final but Djokovic remains just one of two men to have defeated Nadal at the tournament.
Djokovic, an 18-time major winner and 2016 French Open champion, is looking to become the first man in more than half a century to win all four Slams twice.
Nadal, meanwhile, can win a record-setting 21st major with victory in Sunday’s final, edging ahead of Roger Federer in the all-time race.
Results (prefix number denotes seeding):
Semi-final: 17- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) bt Tamara Zidansek (Slovenia) 7-5, 6-3.
Wednesday’s remaining result:
Quarter-final: 1-Novak Djokovic (Serbia) bt 9-Matteo Berrettini (Italy) 6-3, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7), 7-5.—Agencies
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2021