At 7-7 in the third set against Bianca Andreescu in the first round of Roland Garros, Tamara Zidansek slammed two forehand winners to save break points before closing out her maiden Top 10 win 6-7(1), 7-6(2), 9-7.
Four matches later, at 6-6 in the third set against Paula Badosa in the quarterfinals, Zidansek slammed another two forehand winners to save break points before reaching her first ever Grand Slam semifinal 7-5, 4-6, 8-6.
The 23-year-old World No.85 becomes the first player representing Slovenia to make the last four of a major. Prior to the country's independence in 1991, Maribor-born Mima Jausovec won Roland Garros in 1977 and reached five Grand Slam semifinals or better playing for the former Yugoslavia. As a result, Zidansek will break the Top 50 for the first time in next week's WTA rankings.
"It feels overwhelming," she said afterwards. "It's hard to take it in like this fast. Speaking about nerves today ... it was a great opportunity for the both of us to get into the semifinals, but I guess I managed to keep my composure today a little bit better than her."
Over two hours and 26 minutes of thrilling tennis, battles of nerves and wild momentum shifts, Zidansek tallied 48 winners to Badosa's 31 and kept her unforced errors to 39 compared to Badosa's 47. The statistics only scratch the surface of the match's story, though, as the pair did battle on Court Philippe-Chatrier in the biggest contest of their careers.
Tamara Zidansek's 3-1 record in overtime matches
2019 Wimbledon R1, d. Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 5-7, 8-6
2020 Roland Garros R1, l. Garbiñe Muguruza 7-5, 4-6, 8-6
2021 Roland Garros R1, d. Bianca Andreescu 6-7(1), 7-6(2), 9-7
2021 Roland Garros QF, d. Paula Badosa 7-5, 4-6, 8-6
Each set was won from behind. Zidansek trailed by a 0-3 double break after a slow start, but reeled Badosa in with panache. The Spaniard had more raw power, but Zidansek's repertoire was broader - and once she got on the scoreboard, she used its full range to approach every point offensively.
Exquisite dropshots and a heavy forehand that Zidansek could direct around the court at will enabled her to take 11 of the next 15 games to build a 7-5, 4-2 lead. A frustrated Badosa could only find her groove intermittently with her powerful groundstrokes, and was also hampered by five double faults to this point.
"I was very nervous," Badosa said afterwards. "I couldn't control the nerves during the entire match. But at least I fight until the last moment and I had my chances.
"I was nervous in the morning. I was nervous yesterday night. It's complicated the first time when you're in a quarterfinals. When you want it so, so much, maybe sometimes it's a little bit too much, and I was putting a little bit too much pressure on myself."
Seven points from the biggest result of her career, Zidansek faltered. Lapsing into the passivity she had hitherto avoided so well, her rallies became tentative, central and error-strewn.
A heartened Badosa seized her lifeline, striking her forehand with renewed relish to snatch the second set and ultimately rattle off six straight games for a 2-0 lead in the third set.
Almost all of Zidansek's shots had deserted her during this passage of play, but the first to come back was the dropshot. She came up with five winning ones in the next six games alone as she clawed her way back into the match.
At 6-6, the pair played one of the most captivating single games of the tournament. With her back to the wall, Zidansek came from 15-40 down and found winners to save three break points, including two of her fiercest forehands of the day.
A smash sealed the hold after five deuces. One game later, going big paid off again as Zidansek pummeled an inside-in forehand winner on her second match point.
"I have always liked my forehand," said Zidansek afterwards. "It's always been my favorite shot. It's developed first in consistency and not just power. It's not enough that you just play one winner now and then. You also have to be consistent and keep going for those winners.
"I knew that I can do a lot of damage with my forehand. I've just got to get into the right position. That's exactly what I managed to do."
Zidansek, who reached her second WTA final in April in Bogota, has yet to win a Tour title but is a two-time WTA 125 champion, having lifted the Bol trophy in 2018 and 2019. That tournament was cancelled in 2020, but Zidansek had been planning on returning to Croatia as the two-time defending champion this week.
But this breakthrough run has changed her plans - and instead of a hat-trick in Bol, Zidansek will bid for a final at Roland Garros against either No.21 seed Elena Rybakina or No.31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.
It will be the continuation of a hard-fought journey in Paris for Zidansek. As well as her two overtime victories, she also needed to recover from a first-set whitewash to defeat Katerina Siniakova 0-6, 7-6(5), 6-2 in the third round.
"Winning the first round was a big breakthrough for me," she recalled. "I got a lot of confidence from that. [...] I just kept going match by match. Every day is a chapter for itself, you know."