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By Richard Pagliaro | Thursday, June 10, 2021


No. 31-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova stopped Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 6-3 advancing to her maiden major final at Roland Garros.

Photo credit: @Roland Garros

Patience is a virtue, but perseverance propelled Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova into her maiden major final.

Playing her 52nd career Grand Slam tournament, Pavlyuchenkova was in no mood to play the waiting game.

Q&A: Alexander Bublik 

Playing with poise and power, Pavlyuchenkova ended the Cinderella run of 85th-ranked Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 6-3 to reach the Roland Garros final.

The 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova made history as the first woman in the Open Era to play 50 ore more majors before reaching her first Grand Slam singles final.

"It's been a long road," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I had my own long special road. Everybody has different ways. I don't know. I'm just happy I'm in the final. Trying to enjoy. Yeah, try to do better."

The day began with four maiden major semifinalists marking only the second time in Open Era history—and first time since the 1978 Australian Open—all four women were first-time Slam semifinalists. Pavlyuchenkova, who owns 12 career titles, is by far the most experienced of the final four and she showed it in this pressure-packed semifinal.

Deadlocked at 5-all, 
Pavlyuchenkova burst through four consecutive games—three of them decided after deuce—to give herself some breathing room and allow herself to attack her shots.

No. 31-seeded Pavlyuchenkova is the first Russian to reach a Grand Slam singles final in more than six years since Serena Williams defeated Maria Sharapova in the 2015 Australian Open final. Pavlyuchenkova is the first Russian French Open finalist since Sharapova out-dueled Simona Halep in the 2014 final.

Fluent in French, Pavlyuchenkova showed a greater comfort level at crunch time today. She converted six of 10 break-point chances, including breaking three times in five Zidansek service games in the second set.

Still, Zidansek showed she will be a formidable force in the future as her riveting Roland Garos run means she will crack the Top 50 for the first time.

"It was a good match. A new situation for me, semifinals of a Grand Slam," Zidansek said. "So, yeah, I was nervous. But who isn't at this point?

"I was just trying to compose my nerves as well as I could. I did have my chances also in the first set. It was 5-All, 15-40 on her serve. I didn't take my chances as well today as I did previous days, but I did fight till the end. I mean, I'm happy with the way I stood on the court today still."

Paris is a fitting setting for the former ITF junior world champion's major breakthrough: a decade ago, Pavlyuchenkova was up a set and a break in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal before bowing to reigning champion Francesca Schiavone 6-1, 5-7, 5-7.

Applying all of her experience today, Pavlyuchenkova took this major moment on the rise.

The only semifinalist yet to win a WTA title, Zidansek showed no nerves earning a break point in the opening game. Pavlyuchenkova slid an ace down the middle to erase it, but netted a forehand facing a second break point. Zidansek has a quick first step and showed it by scraping out a slice forehand drawing the floated error to break.

The first Slovenian to reach a Slam semifinal backed up the break at love.

Settling herself, Pavlyuchenkova won seven straight points. Spreading the court beautifully, the Russian broke back in the fourth game to level.

Jitters struck Zidansek in the eighth game as the Slovenian spit up her first double fault then scattered her signature shot, the forehand, wide as Pavlyuchenkova broke again for 5-3.

Serving for a one-set lead, Pavluchenkova was stunned when Zidansek ran down a dropper then pulled off a stunning leaping shanked backhand over-head off the top of the frame that fell in for break point. That brilliant, balletic leap recalled the young Yannick Noah and fired up Zidansek's entire box who leaped to their feet.

 The Russian saved break point, but was burned by her use of the drop shot as Zidansek scooped a forehand pass for another break point. Pavlyuchenkova erased it with a bold second serve only to see Zidansek rocket a forehand winner then break back in the ninth game.

The Slovenian's athleticism, court craft and bold strikes helped her earn two break points in the 11th game, but she put a backhand down the line into the top of the tape on the first and Pavlyuchenkova pounded a deep serve to nullify the second navigating a hard-fought hold for 6-5.

Surviving that stress empowered Pavlyuchenkova to swing more freely. Though Zidansek's forehand was one of the biggest shots on the court, Pavlyuchenkova showed her own stinging forehand swatting a sweet running strike then drawing an error with her depth for two set points.

When a tight Zidansek blinked, hitting her second double fault into net, Pavlyuchenkova seized the 52-minute opener and stood one set from her first Grand Slam final. 

An accomplished doubles player, Pavlyuchenkova showed transition skills carving out a slick drop volley winner for a break point. On her second break point, Pavlyuchenkova pounded the Slovenian's backhand until it cracked as she scored her fourth break winning her fourth straight game to go up 2-0 in the second set.

The pair traded breaks in the third and fourth game as Pavlyuchenkova retained her one set, one break lead.

Drilling her serve deep in the box, Pavlyuchenkova did a good job eliciting mid-court returns. She pounced on a short return and whipped a forehand winner stretching her lead to 4-1.

Tennis Express

Throughout the tournament, a spirited Zidansek showed resourcefulness playing from behind. Amping up the pace on her favored forehand, Zidansek hit an 83 mph forehand winner and caught a break when Pavlychenkova double-faulted back the break in the seventh game.

Zidansek was one game from leveling the set. Pavlyuchenkova made sure she did not get any closer.

The 31st seeded patiently probed Zidansek's backhand wing drawing three unforced errors to break again for 5-3.

On the second match point, Zidansek's final backhand down the line strayed wide, Pavluchenkova paused as if soaking it all in and then exhaled as her brother and coach, Aleksandr, stood in the player box and applauded.

The fact Pavlyuchenkova did not erupt in any extensive celebration shows she knows there's more work to be done and has performed like a veteran capable of getting it done.

"At that time that's what I felt," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I'm not this kind of person to celebrate and make it because I have to do it. I do it by nature.

"Like whatever I feel at that particular moment, that's how I felt, so that's how I celebrated at that moment. Yeah, but it doesn't mean anything. I'm extremely happy, of course."


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