There will be a first-time grand slam winner at the French Open in the women’s draw, no matter who wins.
All four players left in the women’s bracket—Tamara Zidansek, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Maria Sakkari, and Barbora Krejcikova — are first-time Grand Slam semifinalists. It’s perhaps a fitting end to a tournament that started with the shocking withdrawal of Naomi Osaka, who pulled out of Roland-Garros prior to her second-round match over the controversy sparked by her media boycott. The conversation led to tennis greats both backing and questioning Osaka’s actions.
Now all eyes point to the remaining four players vying for the title.
Zidansek began her athletic career as a snowboarder. The three-time junior national champion only picked up a racket because her snowboarding club offered lessons during the summer.
The No. 85-ranked WTA player, Zidansek had never advanced beyond the second round of a grand slam tournament before arriving in Paris, but found her footing early on in Roland-Garros. In her opening match, the Slovenian was victorious over the 2019 US Open champion and sixth-seeded Bianca Andreescu 6-7 (1), 7-6 (2), 9-7. The win marked Zidansek’s first top-10 victory.
Unlike so many other upstarts, she did not fizzle out after an early-round upset. Instead, she mobilized a sharp spin-heavy forehand and stabilized her defensive position at the baseline. In the quarterfinals, Zidansek shocked 33rd seed Paula Badosa by pulling out a tight three-set match.
“It feels overwhelming,” Zidansek said to reporters on Tuesday. “It’s hard to take it in like this fast, you know. But I’m just trying to focus on my game, on myself.”
Pavlyuchenkova is no stranger to grand slam tournaments. She has reached six singles quarterfinals and five doubles quarterfinals, but failed to reach the semifinals in each attempt.
The Russian was the No. 1 junior player and won the girls’ titles at both the US Open and Wimbledon in 2006, While her rank peaked at No. 13 in 2011, much of the promise seen in Pavlyuchenkova when she was a teenager failed to materialize — until now.
“I think I have always had the game,” Pavlyuchenkova said on Tuesday. “I wasn’t fit enough and mentally maybe not strong enough, where I’m working on this aspect, working with a sports psychologist now quite recent, and already I feel like it’s starting to pay off.”
Ten years after her first French Open quarterfinals appearance, Pavlyuchenkova has come back with a vengeance. To reach the quarterfinals, she defeated third seed Aryna Sabalenka, and former No. 1-ranked player Victoria Azarenka. On Tuesday, she bested 21st seed Elena Rybakina, her doubles partner, 6-7 (2), 6-2, 9-7 in a hard-fought match that lasted over two hours.
The 17th seed, Sakkari remains the highest-ranked player in the French Open, coming out victorious over 2020 French Open winner Iga Swiatek in straight sets 6-4, 6-4,
Over the course of the past two years, Sakkari has developed a weapon of a serve which she has mobilized well over the course of the tournament. The first set reached its peak as Sakkari saved a break point with a second serve, concluding with a backhand down-the-line shot that clinched the set. That broke Swiatek’s consecutive sets won streak at 22.
The second set remained close at 5-4. Initially, Sakkari was up 40-0 in the final game, but Swiatek regained her footing and came back, bringing it to 40-30. Launching a 99 mph second serve, that Swiatek was unable to return, Sakkari prevailed.
“Before coming into the match, I sat down by myself and spoke to myself. I said: ‘You know what? It’s a very important match. But just enjoy it,’” Sakkari said. “This is one of the best stadiums in the world so I had to.”
Krejcikova, a two-time grand slam doubles champion, has officially cemented herself as a force to be reckoned with in singles. Krejcikova entered the French Open unseeded but battled her way into the singles semifinals and the doubles semifinals alongside partner Katerina Siniakova.
“Everybody, they just put a label on me like, ‘Yeah, you play doubles. You are a doubles specialist.’ But I never thought I just want to be a doubles specialist,” she said on Tuesday.
She trailed Coco Gauff 3-0 and 5-3 in the first set but fought off five set points from the American and then converted her first set point to take it in a tiebreak.
She earned 15 consecutive points bridging the two sets and held on for the 7-6 (6), 6-3 win to earn her first semifinal berth.
Moving into the semifinals Krejcikova will face Pavlyuchenkova and Sakkari will go head-to-head with Krejcikova.
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