Tamara Zidansek and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova have advanced to a shock French Open semi-final in dramatic scenes at Roland Garros on Tuesday.
Zidansek, the first woman representing Slovenia to ever make a grand slam semi-final, and Russian veteran Pavlyuchenkova both prevail in nail-biting three-set marathons that went well past the two-hour mark.
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World No.85 Zidansek 'fought for her life' to overcome Spain's 33rd seed Paula Badosa 7-5 4-6 8-6 in two hours and 26 minutes.
Pavlyuchenkova, who had previously reached six grand slam quarter-finals but never went beyond, then outlasted doubles partner Elena Rybakina in an even longer marathon 6-7 (2-7) 6-2 9-7.
The 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova, seeded No.31, admitted it was "mentally really hard" to beat the woman she'll be partnering in Wednesday's doubles quarter-finals as she looks forward to next facing Zidansek, six years her junior, in Thursday's semis.
With grand slam champions Naomi Osaka, Serena Williams and Bianca Andreescu on their side of the draw, no one could have predicted that Zidansek and Pavlyuchenkov would make the final four.
In fact, for the first time since the Open era began in 1968, six of the final eight women advanced to their very first quarter-final at grand slam level.
Greek No.17 seed Maria Sakkari will face defending champion and hot favourite Iga Swiatek in the other quarter-final, while Czech doubles specialist Barbora Krejcikova faces US teen sensation Coco Gauff.
The crazy turn of events left the tennis world in disbelief after a plethora of big names either withdrew or crashed out of the women's draw in the early stages.
"Covered nearly 100 Grand Slam tournaments and never seen this," tweeted veteran tennis writer Christopher Clarey.
"Six 1st-time major quarterfinalists. Only one of the quarterfinalists has been to a Slam semi and that was Iga Swiatek last year here (she won it all)."
Covered nearly 100 Grand Slam tournaments and never seen this...
Six 1st-time major quarterfinalists. Only one of the quarterfinalists has been to a Slam semi and that was Iga Swiatek last year here (she won it all)
Look at all that empty space to the right of this chart ! pic.twitter.com/YLmsarBY6L
— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) June 8, 2021
— Netta (@_N_e_t_t_a_) June 8, 2021
— TENNIS (@Tennis) June 8, 2021
In a side of the draw that featured Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu, it will be the unlikely pairing of Tamara Zidansek and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova battling for a spot in the #RolandGarros final https://t.co/YPKAzLaGHp
— D'Arcy Maine (@darcymaine_espn) June 8, 2021
Yep. This tennis law still applies. 8-6 Zidansek who clinches the spot into the semi-finals. Crazy run here. Started by this insane match vs Andreescu. https://t.co/IBWQMHgCaZ
— Carole Bouchard 💜💛 (@carole_bouchard) June 8, 2021
With every win that Zidansek gets at RG it makes me feel abit better about the loss... What a run she has had, through to the SF👏fair play, her mental strength has been insane!
— Tommy 😊 (@GenieArmy_UK) June 8, 2021
Zidansek and Pavlyuchenkova in unlikely semi-final
Asked how it felt to be in the last-four, having never been beyond the second round, Zidansek said: "It feels overwhelming, sounds crazy."
Playing the tournament of her life after another gutsy first round marathon defeat of No.6 seed Andreescu, Zidansek found her most redoubtable form at 6-6 in the final set, saving three break points before earning a critical hold.
Badosa then delivered another nervy game as Zidansek snatched two match points, taking advantage of the second by cracking her 48th winner of a remarkable encounter.
A three-time junior national snowboard champ who gave up because she didn't like the cold, Zidansek is the first Slovenian woman to make the semis of a grand slam.
And 10 years since she first reached the quarters at Roland Garros as one of the rising stars of the circuit, Pavlyuchenkova is finally back on the big stage.
The Russian believes she's a more accomplished, mature figure and though she got blitzed by the flat-hitting power of Kazakhstan's No.21 seed Rybakina in the opening set, just as Serena Williams had been blown away in the previous round.
"I knew what to expect from her. The only thing you can do is hang in there," said Pavlyuchenkova.
"I believed in my chances. I know I'm a fighter, so I will fight till the end. That's what I did."
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