Pavlyuchenkova reaches first Slam final on 52nd attempt - GulfToday

Pavlyuchenkova reaches first Slam final on 52nd attempt

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in action against Tamara Zidansek during their French Open semi-finals. Reuters

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Tamara Zidansek in straight sets to reach a first Grand Slam final at the French Open on Thursday at a record 52nd attempt, as great rivals Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic prepared for their blockbuster clash.

The 29-year-old Russian defeated world number 85 Zidansek 7-5, 6-3 and will face Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari or Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic for the title on Saturday, 14 years after her Grand Slam debut.

Pavlyuchenkova, a quarter-finalist in Paris a decade ago, became the first woman to play more than 50 majors before making her first final, breaking the previous mark of 44 set by 2015 US Open runner-up Roberta Vinci.

The 31st seed dropped serve in the opening game on a sun-drenched Court Philippe Chatrier but capitalised on a fourth break point against Zidansek to break back for 2-2.

Pavlyuchenkova, a former junior world number one and Roland Garros girls’ singles finalist in 2006, surged 5-3 ahead as Zidansek sprayed a forehand wide. But the Slovenian immediately broke back, rewarded for her persistence and tireless defence -- pulling off a remarkable backhand volley, throwing her racquet at the ball and watching in astonishment as it caught the line.

Zidansek then carved herself two break points at 5-5 but Pavlyuchenkova managed to hold, and the Russian struck the following game to wrap up the first set as her opponent committed a costly double fault. Pavlyuchenkova rolled that momentum over into the second set, breaking in a lengthy second game to lead 2-0. Zidansek responded to get back on serve but was again broken as the Russian swept into a 4-1 advantage.

Zidansek, twice two points from defeat in the first round here, continued to scrap hard and the nerves resurfaced for Pavlyuchenkova as two double faults allowed the Slovenian to claw her way back to 4-3.

But Pavlyuchenkova was not going to be denied, as another break left her serving for the match, with victory assured when Zidansek fired wide.

For a nation where football and basketball typically rule, Greece will have two players in the semi-finals with Sakkari joining Stefanos Tsitsipas.

World number 18 Sakkari, whose mother Angeliki reached the third round at the French Open in 1985 and 1987, was the highest-ranked player to reach the women’s last four.

It is only the second Grand Slam in the Open era to feature four first-time semi-finalists in the women’s singles, after the 1978 Australian Open.

“I think the draw has changed so much so it doesn’t really matter who was the highest ranked in this tournament,” said Sakkari, who beat 2020 runner-up Sofia Kenin before shocking reigning champion Iga Swiatek.

The 33rd-ranked Krejcikova, a 2018 Roland Garros doubles champion, had never won a Grand Slam singles match before last year’s Australian Open.

Meanwhile, unseeded Barbora Krejcikova saved one match point before booking a spot in the French Open final, where she will face Pavlyuchenkova on Saturday.

Down 5-3, 30-40 on her serve in the decider against 17th-seeded Maria Sakkari, Krejcikova hit a backhand winner at the net to stay alive in the match. She finally held and broke back in the next game to level at 5-5.

Krejcikova needed five match points to seal the win 7-5, 4-6, 9-7. Both Krejcikova and Pavlyuchenkova will play their first Grand Slam final.


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