The French Open will crown a new grand slam champion in the women's draw after Maria Sakkari shocked defending titleholder Iga Swiatek to continue a tournament of huge surprises on Wednesday.
Sakkari completed a surprise semi-final line-up by outplaying a stressed Swiatek 6-4 6-4 on Court Philippe Chatrier in a display brimming with purpose and power.
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In doing so she became the first Greek woman to reach a grand slam semi-final, and will now go into the final four as a completely improbable title favourite.
The World No.18 will face Barbora Krejcikova for a place in the final, after the unseeded Czech sealed a remarkable 7-6 (8-6) 6-3 victory over US teen starlet Coco Gauff.
Thursday's other semi-final sees Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova tackle unseeded Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia.
"I am speechless. It is a dream coming true," said Sakkari.
"I don't know, it is a very nice feeling and I could not have done it without my team and their support.
"We have a long way to go but we made a huge step today.
"I enjoyed myself and sat down and said to myself it is an important match but to enjoy it. I had to enjoy it."
For just the second time in the Open era, there are four first-time grand slam semi-finalists in women's singles, after the 1978 Australian Open.
Furthermore, for just the fifth time in Roland Garros history, a player seeded outside the top 10 will lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen on Saturday.
Sakkari is the second Greek in the semi-finals of the singles at this year's French Open after Stefanos Tsitsipas made the men's last four on Tuesday.
"All of us have been playing really good this year," Sakkari said, suggesting the world rankings during the pandemic-hit period for the game had obscured the real form horses.
"You cannot really see what is the real ranking. So that's why it's a surprise for everyone.
"We are four very good players - players that can win a title, for sure!"
Sakkari's serving under pressure has been insane
— Trenton Jocz (@TrentonJocz) June 9, 2021
— Mark Thorne (@mthorne2) June 9, 2021
— Zibit Asamoah 🇬🇭 (@iamzibit) June 9, 2021
Tsitsipas is 22, Sakkari is 25, both grew up during one of the worst economic crises in modern history, yet still rose to stardom in a sport for the wealthy elites.
Incredible achievements and truly a milestone moment for Greece 🇬🇷 pic.twitter.com/pZqcYywndt
— Super Greek 2.0 (@TheSuperGreek2) June 9, 2021
Sakkari taking out both of last years finalists is truly incredible. https://t.co/pUroheUA9Y
— phillip (@Phillip_Kenyon) June 9, 2021
Greece has never had a Grand Slam Finalist/Winner. Imagine if it happens in the same tournament with Sakkari & Tsitsipas.
Would be incredible, especially when you consider there isn't even a 2nd Greek player in the top 250 on either the men's or women's side. #RolandGarros2021
— Ashish Malhotra (@amalhotra2) June 9, 2021
Sad end to Iga Swiatek's French Open title defence
Swiatek complained of being stressed and sleep-deprived after a tough two-week stretch finally caught up with her, also suffering a problem with her right thigh which required a medical timeout at 2-0 down in the second set.
Yet 25-year-old Sakkari, who once felt she might never be better than a first-week grand slam player, showed her new-found self-belief.
Only a few weeks ago, feeling disenchanted with the game, she'd taken herself off to a Greek island, Spetses.
"I wasn't enjoying tennis. I needed a break and it was a wise decision because I've been enjoying it ever since I came back," said Sakkari.
Krejcikova, inspired by the memory of her late mentor and former Wimbledon champ Jana Novotna, believes she can win the whole thing too after following up her maiden triumph in the pre-Paris Strasbourg tournamnt with an extraordinary win over 25th seed Gauff.
She was 3-0, then 5-3 down and repelled five set points before taking the opener, and then dominated the youngster in the second set even though Gauff saved five match points to battle back from 5-0 down to 5-3.
"Everybody just put a label on me like, 'You are a doubles specialist.' But I never thought I just want to be a doubles specialist," she protested.
"I always felt ... sooner or later, I'm just going to get there."
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