Slovenian surprise Tamara Zidansek and eternal Russian trier Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will ensure the French Open has a wholly unexpected singles finalist after they battled their way through roller-coaster last-four examinations at Roland Garros.
Zidansek, the first woman player representing independent Slovenia ever to make a slam semi, and the one-time junior Russian prodigy Pavlyuchenkova both had to dig deep into the third sets before clawing out their thrilling breakthrough victories.
Former snowboard star Zidansek, ranked only 85 in the world, held her nerve best, reckoning that she’d fought for her life before overcoming Spain’s 33rd seed Paula Badosa 7-5 4-6 8-6 in two hours 26 minutes.
Up next on Court Philippe Chatrier, Pavlyuchenkova, the Russian who’d previously reached six slam quarter-finals but could somehow never get beyond, outlasted her doubles partner Elena Rybakina in an even longer, more compelling marathon 6-7 (2-7) 6-2 9-7.
The 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova, seeded No.31, will next face Zidansek, six years her junior, in Thursday’s semi-final.
The other quarter-finals, to be played on Wednesday, also feature some unlikely faces with Greek No.17 seed Maria Sakkari set to play reigning champion and now hot favourite, Iga Swiatek while Czech Barbora Krejcikova faces US teen sensation Coco Gauff.
“It sounds crazy,” said Zidansek, when asked how it felt to be in the last-four, having never been beyond the second round in her seven previous grand slams.
It looked as if the Slovenian might have missed the boat when she was dominating proceedings at a set and 4-2 up, only to get seriously tight with the winning line in sight.
Badosa forged her way back into the contest, reeling off six games in a row to take early control of the deciding set but Zidansek regrouped in a match which featured patches of brilliance mixed with error-dominated stretches.
But Zidansek, playing the tournament of her life after another gutsy first round marathon defeat of No.6 seed Bianca Andreescu, found her most redoubtable from at 6-6 in the final set.
Badosa looked poised to take control as she earned three break points but Zidansek saved them all, uncorking some ferocious forehands before scrambling to earn the critical hold.
Badosa then delivered a nervy game as Zidansek powered towards two match points.
The first was wasted when she whistled an inside-out forehand just wide but she made no mistake with the second chance, cracking her 48th winner of a remarkable encounter.
“You always have to be on top of your game mentally, and I’m just happy that I came back in the third set to win a tough battle like this,” said Zidansek, a three-time junior national snowboard champion before she decided it was too chilly a pastime for her.
“In that third set, I managed to get my groove, started feeling better and better and I was fighting really well. It’s a real confidence booster for sure.”
Pavlyuchenkova has never stopped believing her time would come, 10 years since she first reached the quarter-finals at Roland Garros as one of the rising stars of the circuit but blew her big chance against Italian Francesca Schiavone.
Just as Serena Williams had done in the previous round, the 29-year-old quickly got blitzed by the flat-hitting power of the Russian-born Kazakh Rybakina.
But Pavlyuchenkova stayed solid, helping the storm to blow itself out before coming from behind to prevail in an absorbing third set with Rybakina finally delivering a double fault for the tamest of endings to a two hour 33 minute battle.