Slovenia's Tamara Zidansek started her 2021 clay season with a run to the Copa Colsanitas final in Bogota, Colombia, and quietly built up a head steam heading into her third main-draw appearance at Roland Garros. The 23-year-old pulled off the biggest upset of the first-round so far, defeating No.7 seed Bianca Andreescu 7-6(1), 6-7(2), 9-7 in a marathon 3 hours and 20 minutes.
Zidansek might not be a household name, but she made a statement with her win Monday. Here are a few fun facts:
1. Her win over Andreescu checked off two big career milestones
Zidansek arrived in Paris looking for her first Top 10 win and seeking her first main-draw win at Roland Garros. She's had bad luck with her first-round draws in her first two attempts, drawing Elise Mertens in 2019 and Garbiñe Muguruza in 2020. Despite the large gulf in ranking and experience, Zidansek took both top women to three sets.
As it would turn out, Zidansek's heartbreaking 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 loss to Muguruza last fall would lay the groundwork for her big win over Andreescu. Zidansek led Muguruza 3-0 in the third set and had to play past 6-6 in the decider for the first time in her career. Asked if she remembered that they weren't going to play a tiebreak at 6-6, Zidansek let out a rueful laugh.
"No, I knew. I knew," she said.
"I just kept fighting, I kept telling myself that it can turn either way, because last year, I had a similar match in the first round. I did have that experience, and I know how it feels to be in a match like that, so I think that experience helped me today.
"Obviously, the first Top 10 win is a big one. It shows me that I can play with players like that, and I showed today that I can beat them. And Roland Garros? Clay courts are my favorite surface for now, and this is a pretty big tournament for me. I've been trying to improve my game tactically, mentally, just the whole package. It's a big win for me today.
🚨 UPSET ALERT 🚨— wta (@WTA) May 31, 2021
An incredible 3-hour battle from both players,🇸🇮 @tamara_zidansek ousts No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu, 6-7(1), 7-6(2), 9-7 😤
She advances to the 2R of #RolandGarros for the first time in her career. pic.twitter.com/E1i2f2R5h4
2. Sliding is what she does best
Zidansek was a three-time national junior snowboarding champion in Slovenia.
"I was enrolled in a snowboarding and skiing team, and at the summer camp they had tennis lessons," Zidansek said. "That's how I started. I really liked it and I continued."
Given her snowboarding success, how did she end up pursuing tennis? The answer really isn't that complicated.
"I was really cold," Zidansek said. "That was one of my main problems with snowboarding. I was always cold. Always."
3. She's tallied big wins in 2021
In her first match of the season, in Abu Dhabi, Zidansek defeated eventual Australian Open finalist Jennifer Brady after coming back from a bagel to win 0-6, 6-3, 6-4, then followed it up with a straight-sets win over eventual Monterrey champion Leylah Fernandez.
On her most comfortable surface, Zidansek has quietly tallied noteworthy wins. After making her second WTA final in Bogota, she put together two successful qualifying campaigns, in Madrid and Rome. In the Spanish capital, she defeated Hsieh Su-Wei to qualify and then took No.1 Ashleigh Barty to three sets. She carried that momentum into Rome qualifying, where she beat Sloane Stephens in straight sets.
4. She doesn't come from a sporting family
The daughter of a judge and schoolteacher, Zidansek's first love has always been sports.
"My mom tells me now and again that she put instruments in my hand to play music, but I would always go and pick up a ball and play with it," she said.
"I'm interested in a lot of things, but I just like sports in general. I don't want to brag, but I think I'm good at everything, at least average. So I like sports in general and I like psychology. I'm studying psychology as well."
5. She's a late-bloomer
Zidansek reached a career-high No.56 in June 2019 and she came into Roland Garros ranked No.85. Her win over clutch win over Andreescu has validated all the hard work she's put into improving her game.
"Each player has a different path," Zidansek said. "Some players go out there and win some big matches when they're 16, 17, 18. I'm 23 now. For me, it's been a process.
"I work hard and I was never top-ranked under 14s, under 16s. I was the underdog, I guess, trying to make my way up there. It made me strong and it developed my personality was well. It's all coming together right now."