PARIS, France - The unseeded Japanese pair of Eri Hozumi and Makoto Ninomiya continued their giant-killing exploits in the Roland Garros semifinals, defeating No.8 seeds Chan Hao-Ching and Yang Zhaoxuan 6-2, 6-2 - and making history for their country in the process.
The 24-year-olds have now beaten four consecutive seeded teams without dropping a set this fortnight, adding Chan and Yang to the scalps of No.11 seeds Raquel Atawo and Anna-Lena Groenefeld, No.5 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Xu Yifan and No.1 seeds Timea Babos and Kristina Mladenovic. Having been the first all-Japanese pair to play a French Open semifinal since Rika Fujiwara and Ai Sugiyama lost to Lisa Raymond and Rennae Stubbs in 2002, Hozumi and Ninomiya are now the first ever all-Japanese team to make a Slam final. No Japanese player has reached the last round of a major since three-time Slam champion Sugiyama at the 2009 Australian Open, alongside Daniela Hantuchova.
It was a brilliant performance from Hozumi and Ninomiya, who dominated from every corner of the court with creative shot selection and astounding hand skills. Ninomiya's hustle was spectacular: last year's Wimbledon semifinalist was seemingly everywhere as she chased down whatever Chan and Yang could throw at her. Particular highlights came at deuce in the fourth game, when she scurried from one end of the court to the other and then diagonally up to net for the final volley; and then to carve out a point for the double break in the next game, slamming a backhand winner down the line at full stretch.
Hozumi, too, was solid on serve, efficient at net and frequently magnificent with the lob as she supported her partner's perpetual-motion approach to the game - and the Japanese pair would face just one break point in the first set as they captured it in only 28 minutes.
The China/Chinese Taipei partnership continued to press, with Chan - the most powerful player on court - upping the pace to blast some key winners at the start of the second set. Ninomiya was still finding brilliant winners at net, on the lob and with her backhand, and the Japanese team seemed in control as their seized the first break - but Chan found crucial angles with her backhand volley to retrieve the deficit.
But when another high-octane rally on Yang's subsequent service game ended with the 23-year-old sending a drive volley into the net, Hozumi and Ninomiya were once again in the driving seat. A Hozumi lob, an exquisitely angled Ninomiya volley and a breathtaking Hozumi get for a winner again showed off the full range of their skillset as they moved to a 5-2 lead - and although it would take them three match points to close the deal, one last Ninomiya smash was enough.
Though the unseeded pair have played together on and off throughout their careers - first teaming up in Ninomiya's pro debut in 2009 - Roland Garros is only their second tournament as a team this year, and third since 2015. Five weeks ago, they lost in the semifinals of the ITF $80,000 event in Gifu, Japan to Ksenia Lykina and Emily Webley-Smith - but this weekend, Hozumi and Ninomiya will play the biggest match of their lives against either No.2 seeds Andrea Sestini Hlavackova and Barbora Strycova or No.6 seeds Barbora Krejcikova and Katerina Siniakova.