First-time finalists to meet for French Open title

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will play Barbora Krejcikova for the French Open title after the Russian reached her first Grand Slam final in her record 52nd attempt, while the Czech saved a match point in a dramatic win over Maria Sakkari at Roland Garros on Thursday.

Pavlyuchenkova defeated world No. 85 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia 7-5, 6-3. The unseeded Krejcikova had to fight back from the brink to outlast Sakkari 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 after 3 hours, 18 minutes.

Pavlyuchenkova, who reached the quarterfinals in Paris a decade ago, became the first woman to play more than 50 Grand Slams before making her first final, breaking the previous mark of 44 set by 2015 U.S. Open runner-up Roberta Vinci.

“It’s been a long road,” said the 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova, who made her Grand Slam debut at Wimbledon in 2007. “I had my own long special road. Everybody has different ways. I’m just happy I’m in the final.”

The No. 31 seed dropped serve in the opening game on a sun-drenched Court Philippe Chatrier but capitalized on a break point to even the first set at 2-2.

Pavlyuchenkova, a former junior world No. 1 and Roland Garros girls’ singles finalist in 2006, surged ahead 5-3 as Zidansek sprayed a forehand wide. The Slovenian, however, immediately broke back.

Zidansek then gave herself two break points at 5-5. Pavlyuchenkova managed to hold and and then took the following game to win the first set when her opponent committed a costly double fault.

Pavlyuchenkova carried that momentum into the second set, breaking to lead 2-0. Zidansek responded to get back on serve but was broken again as the Russian swept into a 4-1 advantage.

Zidansek continued to fight and Pavlyuchenkova’s nerves resurfaced as two double faults allowed the Slovenian to claw her way back to 4-3.

Pavlyuchenkova, however, was not going to be denied, as another break left her serving for the match.

Krejcikova, ranked No. 33, gave the French Open its fourth unseeded women’s finalist in five years after her dramatic three-set victory over Greece’s Sakkari.

“I always wanted to play a match like this, a challenging match where we’re both playing so well,” Krejcikova said. “Even if I lost today, I’m very proud of myself. Fighting, in life, it’s the most important thing.”

Both players made a nervous start to their maiden Grand Slam semifinal, with 17th-seeded Sakkari the first to hold serve in the fourth game as she took a 3-1 lead.

Krejcikova picked up the next four games, pulling ahead 5-3 with a sublime lob that left her serving for the set.

Sakkari then rattled off eight straight points to pull even at 5-5.

Krejcikova held serve put the pressure back on Sakkari, who surrendered the set when her shot clipped the net and floated wide.

Sakkari, who took down Sofia Kenin, last year’s runner-up, and reigning champion Iga Swiatek in the past two rounds, regrouped and raced to a 4-0 lead in the second set.

The Greek fended off a spirited comeback to force a third set.

Sakkari broke for a 2-1 edge and saved a break point in the next game.

She had match point at 5-3, but the resilient Krejcikova stayed alive with a sweeping backhand volley, and then broke back before going ahead 6-5.

Krejcikova had three chances to close out the match at 7-6, but Sakkari saved a pair with a crunching backhand winner and an ace.

Krejcikova held again with relative comfort and brought up another match point on Sakkari’s serve. A forehand from the Greek was called long, but the chair umpire dramatically overruled — even as TV replays showed the ball to be out.

Rather than dwell on her apparent hard luck, Krejcikova brought up a fifth match point and converted with a backhand winner down the line.

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