For the third year in a row, the Roland Garros quarterfinals will feature a clash between two players making their debut at that stage of a Grand Slam.
Tamara Zidansek's dream run at Roland Garros continued as the World No.85 delivered a majestic performance to defeat Sorana Cirstea 7-6(4), 6-1. She was followed on Court Suzanne-Lenglen by her next opponent, No.33 seed Paula Badosa, who extended her winning streak to nine with a 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 win over No.20 seed Marketa Vondrousova.
Zidansek, 23, also becomes the first Slovenian player to reach the last eight of a major since the country became independent in 1991. Mima Jausovec, who was born in Maribor, was the 1977 Roland Garros champion and reached at least the quarterfinals of each Grand Slam playing for the former Yugoslavia.
The best previous Grand Slam performance by a player representing Slovenia had been the three fourth-round runs by former World No.20 Katarina Srebotnik at Roland Garros 2002 and 2008, and the US Open 2008.
"I'm getting a lot of messages that everyone is watching," said Zidansek. "It means a lot to me that I'm able to get across to the message to young people and everyone in Slovenia that we can do it. We're a small country, we don't have that many players, but we have good players."
Zidansek played with a cool head and superb control, belying her rookie status at this stage of a major. In particular, she was impressive in saving six out of the seven break points she faced, including one set point at 5-6 in the first set, with clutch tennis. Previously, she had never gone beyond the second round of a Grand Slam, but a maiden Top 10 win in the first round here over No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu has unlocked some of her best tennis.
A tight opening set began with a nervy exchange of breaks, but the pair swiftly settled into a rhythm on serve. Both Cirstea and Zidansek's main weapon is the forehand, and the outcome of rallies frequently depended on each player's success in either breaking down her opponent's backhand or redirecting her forehand down the line.
There's a new Zizou in France 😏— wta (@WTA) June 6, 2021
With a 7-6(4), 6-1 victory over Cirstea, 🇸🇮 @tamara_zidansek becomes the first woman representing Slovenia to reach the last eight at a major 👏
With little between them on that front, Zidansek was able to move through a few more gears to edge the crucial tiebreak. A dropshot-pass combination set her up with triple set point and an errant forehand from Cirstea sealed the second.
Zidansek pressed home her advantage with some beautiful tennis to dominate the second set. Showing off greater dimensions to her game, she came up with smartly constructed points that left Cirstea flailing.
The Romanian, who had been seeking her second Grand Slam quarterfinal place since reaching that stage at Roland Garros in 2009, responded with impatient errors. Cirstea gave up the double break with consecutive double faults and a forehand sitter ballooned into the tramlines.
The gulf was too much to make up, and Zidansek sealed victory with an emphatic forehand winner, her 20th of the day.
"I think that we both went into the match a little bit nervous, which is I guess normal," she said. "A big opportunity for the both of us. It took me a couple of games to settle down. It was good that I got that first game on the scoreboard.
"I started serving better and better towards the end of the first set, which also helped me to save that break point, which was also a set point. From then on it was just in the tiebreak fighting for every point.
"Once I managed to get the tiebreak, I started feeling more comfortable out there. I started feeling more comfortable about going after my shots. That showed well in the second set."
Badosa continues hot streak with Vondrousova upset
Zidansek's next opponent will be another 1997-born former Top 20 junior coming into her own on the WTA Tour this year. Badosa has been on a roll in the last two months, reaching semifinals in Charleston and Madrid before picking up her maiden title in Belgrade a fortnight ago.
The Spaniard, who escaped match point to defeat Ana Bogdan in a third-round thriller, extended her clay record this season to 17-2 with another impressive three-set win. Badosa totalled 30 winners to 30 unforced errors compared to 2019 finalist Vondrousova's 26 winners and 39 unforced errors.
"I don't think I envision all these kind of things," Badosa said about her hot streak. "I wanted to do a good clay court season. I was feeling good. I was working hard. I think my game suits quite good on clay. I was wanting it so, so much. I was working hard for it. It's coming. I didn't expect doing all these results. I was expecting doing it quite good, but not like this."
Beyond the statistics, though, Badosa played with greater intensity in the biggest moments of the match. She saved six of the nine break points she faced while converting five of the 10 she brought up on Vondrousova's serve, rarely allowed her level to drop significantly and took greater risks to break open rallies in her favour.
"I always thought that tennis is 80% mental," she said afterwards. "I think when you're in these rounds, of course the racquet is important, how you play, it's very important. I think it's a little bit more important how you manage all the nerves in the important moments. I think when you're here, the mental thing, it's a little bit the key."
Badosa won the first set from 1-3 down, coming up with bold winners to save two break points en route to serving it out. At the climax of the contest, she responded well to Vondrousova threatening a last-minute comeback. A battling hold saw the Czech save two points for Badosa to take a 5-1 lead - but Badosa shook off the setback to storm through the last two games anyway.
By contrast, Vondrousova's level would fluctuate too much, and in the wrong direction at the wrong time. The 21-year-old was afflicted by six double faults, two of which led to a break at 4-4 in the first set and another of which came facing her first break point of the decider.
Vondrousova was able to showcase some of the tennis that took her to her first Grand Slam final here two years ago, particularly with a series of exquisite dropshots in the second set. But a cascade of cheap errors on routine rally balls at the start of the third set left her quickly trailing 1-4, and the gulf was too much to make up in the face of Badosa's superior play.
It was the first time the pair had played at pro level, but the result was a reprise of their 2015 Roland Garros girls' semifinal, which Badosa won 6-4, 7-6(8) en route to the title.
"I remember was a tough one," she said of that clash six years ago. "She was No.1 in the world in juniors in that moment. I knew that match was like a little bit the tournament match. I remember it was a very tactical match. She's a very smart player. Today was the same six years after, but it was the same situation."
She will hope to draw on her junior experience again in the next round. It will be another first-time pro encounter - but the last time they played, Badosa defeated Zidansek 6-2, 6-4 in the semifinals of the 2014 European Junior Championships in Klosters.
Their clash will be the third straight year which has featured a last-eight match between first-time Grand Slam quarterfinalists at Roland Garros. In 2019, Vondrousova defeated Petra Martic and went on to the final; in 2020, Iga Swiatek beat Martina Trevisan en route to the trophy.