PARIS, June 10: Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat world number 85 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia 7-5, 6-3 to reach a first Grand Slam final at a record 52nd attempt at the French Open on Thursday.
The 29-year-old Russian will face Greek 17th seed Maria Sakkari or the unseeded 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.
“I am so tired and so happy, it is very emotional,” said Pavlyuchenkova.
“It was difficult, I tried to fight very hard and to work on the tactical side. It is important to stay focused and in the right zone for the final on Saturday.”
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.
Salisbury ends Britain’s 39-year wait for French Open success
Joe Salisbury ended Britain’s 39-year wait for a main draw title at the French Open when he combined with American Desirae Krawczyk to win the mixed doubles at Roland Garros on Thursday.
Krawczyk and Salisbury rallied from a set down to beat the Russian pair of Elena Vesnina and Aslan Karatsev 2-6 6-4 (10-5) to clinch the title on a sun-bathed Philippe Chatrier court.
The Russians looked in control and broke their opponents’ serve twice in the opening set to take the lead, before Krawczyk and Salisbury converted their only breakpoint opportunity late in the second set to take the match into a deciding tie-break.
They carried the momentum into the tie-break and opened up a 4-0 early lead, which was enough in the end.
“They killed us in the first set, and I think that it was a combination of sort of us getting better, then they dropped their level a bit,” said Salisbury, who has been playing mixed doubles with Krawczyk since the 2018 U.S. Open.
Britain’s last title at the claycourt Grand Slam had also come in mixed doubles when John Lloyd partnered with Australian Wendy Turnbull to win one of the five main draw titles in 1982.
Mixed doubles, which features only at the four Grand Slams and is not played on the professional tours, was not played last year at Roland Garros due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The match could have taken a controversial turn when chair umpire Carlos Ramos ruled an ace from Salisbury to have landed out on 40-0 in the second set even as the team had taken their seats for the break before the match tie-break.
Salisbury argued that the umpire was mistaken about the mark where the ball landed but to no avail.
Salisbury ended up with a double fault on that point, then lost a second point on serve before finally managing to level the match on the third set point.
Salisbury said he had to compose himself following the argument. “That was a strange one … I’m not sure how he thought that that was the mark,” he told reporters.
“And especially after we kind of thought it was an ace, we sat down, thought we’d won the set, had to get up again.”
Chapter 58 for Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal at French Open
Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal clash for the 58th time on Friday on the same court where they first met 15 years ago with a place in the French Open final at stake.
It is tennis’s greatest modern rivalry between two men who have harvested 38 Grand Slam titles between them and 72 Masters.
Djokovic has spent more weeks at world number one than any other player while 13-time French Open winner Nadal has not been out of the top 10 in 16 years.
Nadal will start Friday’s semi-final as favourite, buoyed by his record of 105 wins and just two losses in his Roland Garros career.
The 35-year-old also has the edge over Djokovic on clay with a 19-7 career lead and 7-1 in Paris.
Djokovic hasn’t beaten Nadal on the surface since Rome in 2016.
He can, however, boast being one of only two men to have defeated Nadal in Paris, in the quarter-finals in 2015.
“It’s a well-anticipated semi-final and here we are,” said Djokovic of a rivalry which started on Court Philippe Chatrier in 2006.
“We had some battles over the years on this court.”
Nadal defeated 2016 champion Djokovic in straight sets in last year’s final, the Serb’s third loss in the championship match in Paris to the Spaniard.
There is plenty at stake on Friday as the two rivals close in on Sunday’s final.
Djokovic can win a 19th Slam and become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to win all four Slams twice.
Victory for Nadal would give him a record-setting 21st major, breaking the tie with Roger Federer.
“The vibes are different walking on the court with him,” added Djokovic. “But that’s why our rivalry has been historic.”
It’s been a topsy-turvy tournament for Djokovic.
After racing through the first three rounds, he had to come back from two sets down to defeat Italian 19-year-old Lorenzo Musetti.
In the quarter-finals, he dropped the third set against Matteo Berrettini.
With the exception of a second-set blip in the quarter-finals against Diego Schwartzman, Nadal has reached his 14th semi-final relatively unscathed.
Despite his clay court stranglehold on Djokovic, Nadal isn’t getting too far ahead of himself.
“It is a semi-final, not a final. That’s a big difference,” he said.
The latest chapter of Djokovic v Nadal has overshadowed Friday’s other semi-final between Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas and sixth-seeded Alexander Zverev of Germany.
They have met seven times but just once on clay in Madrid in 2019 when Tsitsipas triumphed.
The 22-year-old Tsitsipas is in his third successive semi-final at the Slams and took Djokovic to five sets in the last four at Roland Garros in 2020.
He arrived in Paris with clay court titles this year in Monte Carlo and Lyon and had a match point to beat Nadal in the Barcelona final.
Zverev is in his first semi-final at Roland Garros having almost fallen at the first hurdle against 152nd-ranked compatriot Oscar Otte.
Whoever makes it to Sunday’s final will have their work cut out.
Tsitsipas is 2-7 against Nadal and 2-5 playing Djokovic.
Zverev is 3-6 when taking on Nadal and 2-6 facing Djokovic.
Head-to-head: Djokovic leads 29-28 (AFP/Reuters)