Historic Fortnight For Pavlyuchenkova, Zidansek

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (photo: @rolandgarros/Twitter)

PARIS/WASHINGTON, June 9, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

The semifinal for the lower half of the French Open women’s draw is set between unseeded Tamara Zidansek and No. 31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. Huh? Who?

At the start of this year’s Roland-Garros, pre-tournament projections suggested it would be either No. 7 seed Serena Williams, in hot pursuit of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title, or No. 3 seed Aryna Sabalenka, going farther in a major than she ever has gone, going up against No. 2 Naomi Osaka, winner of two of the last three Grand Slams. However, this Parisian fortnight has been all about unpredictable results on and off the court, where Williams was upset by Rybakina and Sabalenka fell to Pavlychenkova – and Osaka withdrew after winning her first-round match, then skipped out on a mandatory post-match press conference citing mental health reasons.

Both the 85th-ranked Zidansek of Slovenia, who is projected to break the Top 50 next week, and No. 32 Pavlyuchenkova from Russia, in her 50th major main draw appearance, have reached their first Grand Slam semifinal at this year’s second major. A common denominator has been their resilience to come back after being behind. Take a look at their quarterfinal-round victories – Zidansek against No. 33 seed Paula Badosa and Pavyuchenkova versus No. 21 seed Elena Rybakina, both in three sets, respectively – to get a better understanding.

Two of the last four women’s title winners at Roland Garros had never won a tour-level title until they won the Coupe Suzanne-Lenglen. Although Zidansek, 23, might be considered a long shot, with defending champion Iga Swiatek and Coco Gauff still alive in the upper half of the draw, what this year’s French Open has taught everyone – with six first-time major quarterfinalists – is that anything’s possible. After all, Zidansek had never gone beyond the second round in a major.

“It sounds crazy, even to me. Right now, I’m going to try and focus on the next match,” Zidansek, a former junior snowboarding champion who gave up the snow for clay, told Tennis Channel‘s Jon Wertheim during a court-side interview as she left Court Philippe-Chatrier. “Maybe, after the tournament it will come to me.”

Against Badosa, Zidansek was up, then down, down then up. Finally, in back of 48 winners, she won 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 in a match that lasted almost two-and-a-half hours. Zidansek was asked whether her win was more of a mental or physical victory. “I would say first mental, then physical,” was her answer. “I’m really happy. I played a long first match against [Bianca] Andreescu that was like more than three hours. This one wasn’t as long but was really tough.”

As for Pavlyuchenkova, a decade following her first Grand Slam quarterfinal at the 2011 French Open, the 29-year-old Russian, who first gained prominence as a junior champion at age 17, snapped an 0-6 record in major quarterfinals with her 6-7 (2), 6-2, 9-7 victory over Rybakina, her doubles partner, to reach her first Grand Slam semifinal.

“I believed in my chances. I believed in my game overall,” Pavlyuchenkova said during her press conference. “You know, I’m a fighter, so I will fight until the end. Yeah, that’s what I did. …

“When I’m on the court, I’m doing my job and I fight, and I want to kill my opponent every time I play (smiling). So, that’s the difference.”

Tsitsipas reaches second straight Roland Garros semifinal

Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the French Open semifinals for the second straight year after beating. No. 2 seed Daniil Medvedev, 7-3, 7-6 (3), 7-5, in two hours and 21 minutes on Court Philippe-Chartrier Tuesday evening. On match point, Medvedev tried to surprise Tsitsipas with an underarm serve, but the Greek rising star was ready for it and attacked it with a backhand down-the-line winner.

Tsitsipas hit 33 winners, won 74 percent (75 of 102) of his service points, and converted four of seven break-point chances against the World No. 2 from Russia. He outpointed his opponent 118-91. Although Medvedev hit 36 winners, he was undone by 49 unforced errors.

The victory was the first by Tsitsipas against Medvedev since 2019 and improved his career head-to-head against him to 2-6.

Next, Tsitsipas, who is one win away from reaching the title match of a major for the first time, will oppose sixth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany, who earlier beat Spain’s Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1. The Greek rising star leads Zverev 5-2 in their lifetime head-to-head, including 1-0 on clay.

Daniil Medvedev: Now it can be told

Tuesday’s Roland-Garros results

Wednesday’s Roland-Garros order of play

Tamara Zidansek: When you know, you know

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova: ‘Feline’ good

During her post-match press conference, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova was asked about writing “Meow” when she signed the camera lens. Was it a message to her cat? “I just wrote ‘Meow’ because I don’t even have cats. I don’t like cats. So I wrote ‘Meow’ because that’s how I talk. I use it a lot in my conversations. It’s like a playful way. I’m like, ‘Meow, see you later. Meow.’

“I just sometimes don’t know what to even write on the camera. So I just came up with ‘Meow.'”

Even the coaches are good buddies

Team work = dream work in doubles

By the numbers

“Quotable …”

Lorenzo Musetti, 19, #NextGenATP star from Italy after playing World No. 1 and top seed Novak Djokovic:

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What they’re sharing on social media

Paula Badosa / ‘I will come back stronger.’