In the first of two Roland Garros semifinals between debutantes at this stage of a major, No.31 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova held off Tamara Zidansek 7-5, 6-3 in one hour and 34 minutes.
Pavlyuchenkova, 29, becomes the first woman to play more than 50 majors before reaching her first final. She made her Grand Slam debut as a 15-year-old wildcard at Wimbledon 2007, losing to Daniela Hantuchova in the first round, and this fortnight marks her 52nd Grand Slam main draw. The previous record was held by Roberta Vinci, who was the 2015 US Open runner-up in her 44th main draw.
"I had my own long special road," Pavlyuchenkova told the media in her post-match press conference. "Everybody has different ways. I don't know, I'm just happy I'm in the final. Trying to enjoy."
"I think about [winning a Grand Slam tournament] all the time," said Pavlyuchenkova. "Been thinking about it since I was a junior, since I was a little kid, since I started playing tennis. That's what you're playing for. That's what you want. It's been there in my head forever."
Pavlyuchenkova, who will face Barbora Krejcikova on Saturday for the title, also ends a six-year drought for her country. Between 2004 and 2015, a Russian woman featured in at least one Grand Slam final every year except 2005. The last to do so before Pavlyuchenkova this fortnight was Maria Sharapova, who lost the 2015 Australian Open final to Serena Williams.
The result puts Pavlyuchenkova into her 21st career final, and first since Moscow 2019. Her first was at Monterrey 2010, where she defeated Hantuchova to lift the trophy, and she will be seeking her first title since Strasbourg 2018.
"I would love to go further and to get more," the Russian stated. "I'm happy, but I'm still focused and I feel like I can do better maybe. That's what I want at least. Definitely trying to soak this in and enjoy as much as possible this very special moment for me."
Against World No.85 Zidansek, the first player representing Slovenia to reach the last four of a major, Pavlyuchenkova's scoreboard management was key. She recovered from a slow start to lead 5-3, then kept her cool in the face of a Zidansek purple patch to close out the first set. In the second, she weathered a sequence of five nervy service breaks, sealing victory on her first match point when Zidansek sent a backhand wide.
Power. Poise. Persistence.— wta (@WTA) June 10, 2021
🇷🇺 @NastiaPav is through to her first career Grand Slam final, defeating Zidansek 7-5, 6-3!
Pavlyuchenkova had struck a tournament-leading 155 winners coming into the semifinals, but it was Zidansek who was more determined to get on the front foot with 27 winners to Pavlyuchenkova's 19.
Those included a mini-highlights reel of its own as Pavlyuchenkova served for the first set at 5-3. Three times Zidansek forced break point with spectacular winners: a framed lob that landed on the line after a desperate leap into the air, a delicate counterdrop and a fizzing off forehand.
After the last of those, Pavlyuchenkova finally broke down with a backhand over the baseline. A surging Zidansek continued to conjure a dazzling array of shots from every corner of the court, and held two break points to take a 6-5 lead.
But a backhand error and a service winner denied Zidansek, and her zone ended a few points too soon. Instead of soaring to the first set, she gifted it to Pavlyuchenkova with her first double fault down set point.
FULL. STRETCH. 🙆♀️— wta (@WTA) June 10, 2021
🎥: @rolandgarros | @tamara_zidansekpic.twitter.com/s4AXrDd95X
For three straight matches, Pavlyuchenkova had been the underdog against higher seeds: No.3 Aryna Sabalenka, No.15 Victoria Azarenka and No.21 Elena Rybakina. Suddenly, despite the last four of a Grand Slam being brand new territory for her, she was the most accomplished player left in the field.
Of those remaining, Pavlyuchenkova owns the best career-high ranking (World No.13, set in July 2011), and the most and deepest previous major showings (six quarterfinals). Her 12 career titles dwarf the other semifinalists' totals (Barbora Krejcikova and Maria Sakkari have won one each, while Zidansek is yet to lift a trophy above WTA 125 level).
"Definitely it was a bit tougher because you think, 'Okay, I'm ranked higher, whatever,'" said Pavlyuchenkova. "For both of us, it was the first semifinal. It definitely was a lot of mental game going on there, for sure."
Complications in closing out the match were therefore to be expected. Three times Pavlyuchenkova went up a break in the second set; twice, Zidansek pegged her back. The second of these occasions featured two Pavlyuchenkova double faults.
But Zidansek was unable to regain any momentum, committing 33 unforced errors to Pavlyuchenkova's 22. Two of those enabled Pavlyuchenkova to serve for the match, and this time there was no hesitation about her play as she sealed a long-awaited dream.
"Playing that last game I was serving for [the match], I was totally in my zone, focusing," Pavlyuchenkova said. "'I'm here right now. I know what I have to do.'"
"At the end of the day, I tried to stay in the match every point," the Russian stated. "I had my tactic, I knew what I had to do. So just the discipline. I was trying to follow the discipline simply."