There were emotional scenes on Court Philippe Chatrier on Thursday night as Barbora Krejcikova, the latest Czech talent to emerge from that fertile tennis country, fought through a 3hr 18min semi-final and then thanked the much-missed Jana Novotna for her inspiration.
At 25, Krejcikova is hardly a novice to elite tennis. She has already won multiple major titles in women’s doubles and mixed doubles, even reaching world No 1 in that discipline. But it is only in the last couple of months that she cracked the singles game as well.
Coming into Paris, Krejcikova had won a combined tally of five singles matches at major tournaments, all since the start of last year. Now she has more than doubled that figure at this one event, earning a place in the women’s final thanks to Thursday's dramatic 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 victory over Greece’s Maria Sakkari.
After such a draining match, Krejcikova might have been expected to cut her on-court interview short and make for the massage table. Instead, she asked broadcasting host Marion Bartoli to extend their chat for a moment while she thanked Novotna, the former Wimbledon champion who had coached her during the middle of the 2010s.
“From upstairs, she was really looking after me,” said Krejcikova of Novotna, who died of cancer in 2017 at the tragically young age of 49. “And I really miss her and I just want to thank her because... because of her I'm here. It's really important to me to say this out loud.”
Krejcikova showed enormous resilience to outlast a determined Sakkari – and also to shrug off a dubious line call on match point. A minute or two before driving a backhand up the line to close out the win, she had held up her arms in celebration when a Sakkari forehand was called long – only for the chair umpire to over-rule.
Had Sakkari turned that reprieve into a successful comeback, there would have been no little controversy, especially as Hawk-Eye – which, admittedly, has never been fully tested on clay – suggested that the ball was out. But Krejcikova remained completely calm. Indeed, that was her mien throughout this meandering and nerve-wracking match, which featured moonballs, drop-shots, and the occasional horrible shank.
The contest with Sakkari, a loud and energetic player who always seems as if she has been plugged in at the mains, could hardly have been greater. But in the end it was Sakkari who buckled, failing to serve out the match at 5-4 in the deciding set, while Krejcikova held her nerve. Perhaps all those doubles finals proved to be useful preparation.
Remarkably, Krejcikova is also still in the women’s doubles draw, and is scheduled to play in the semi-finals on Friday with her partner and compatriot Katerina Siniakova. Should she win both titles, she would be the first woman to do so at the French Open since Mary Pierce in 2000.
In the earlier semi-final, 29-year-old Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova had defeated Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek in straight sets: 7-5, 6-3. This is another story of a late bloomer, for Pavlyuchenkova set a new record by reaching her first major final on her 52nd attempt. The previous record had been held by Roberta Vinci, who reached the 2015 US Open final in what was then her 44th grand-slam event.
We hear from Krejcikova
I always wanted to play a match like this. Such a challenging match, where we both had our chances and played so well. But only one could win. Even if I had lost, I kept fighting. I was fighting. In here, in our own lives, but that's the most important thing.
Krejcikova does it!! SHE WINS! Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 9-7 Sakkari
Sakkari is 30-15 up but then Krejcikova delivers something special - a backhand down the line which hugs the baseline. 30-30.
Another high pressure next point and Sakkari double faults. Krejcikova has a fourth match point. Her serve sends Krejcikova out wide, and the Czech sends back a looping shot again. Sakkari hits a forehand, and it is called as long. Krejcikova has her arms in the air in celebration, but the umpire is jumping out of his chair, and he's overturned the decision - he says it's in. Krejcikova is incredulous.
The hawk-eye - which isn't used at the French Open - says it was long. But the umpire's decision stands and they replay the point. This suddenly focuses Sakkari as she saves match point with a brutal backhand. The drama.
The Greek has the opportunity to hold, but her unreliable forehand veers wide. Deuce.
More drama next, Sakkari's shot is called wide and she's arguing with the umpire but he's not changing this decision. A fifth match point to Krejcikova.
They trade blows like boxers in the ring next, and it could go either way, but Krejcikova finds an opening and she hits her winner cleanly. Her arms are in the air in celebration for the second time but this time there's no doubt! She's done it! Three hours and 15 minutes and she's done it! She's a French Open finalist.
Elation for the Czech. But my, my, that is heartbreak for Sakkari who had one foot in the final. She departs the court thanking the crowd graciously.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 8-7 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova is bringing touches of class to this semi-final now. She's hitting winners and breaking Sakkari down, and she holds with relative ease. She's up 8-7 and the pressure is back on Sakkari, for the third time she is serving to stay in this semi-final.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6, 7-7 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari just dug herself out of a hole like never before.
She is by far the nervier player on serve at this point. Krejcikova is bringing some of the coolness that has helped her win two majors in doubles. In crunch time, she knows what to do, and she's competing in a way she was not earlier on in this set.
Each point is a struggle for Sakkari, and she hits an inside-out backhand just long to give Krejcikova a 15-30 lead.
Her decision-making is in tatters next, as she tries to volley a looping shot sent her way. Suddenly Krejcikova has two match points. Krejcikova gifts her one back, sending her backhand long. Then a heart-in-mouth rally as Sakkari puts it all on the line with a backhand into the corner of the court. She's made it - and we're at deuce.
Wow - that was brave.
But Krejcikova's return on the next point clips the net and bounces meekly into the court, and Sakkari's got no way of chasing it. Krejcikova puts both her hands up in apology but she has another match point.
Sakkari is not down and out thjough and she saves the third match point with an ace down the T. The crowd is up on their feet - she's telling them to cheer louder. Then an absorbing rally next, as these two players have suddenly brought their best play to this crucial moment in the match. Sakkari's cross-court backhand pushes Krejcikova out of the court and then the Greek smashes it home for game point. A brilliant serve to follow and Krejcikova's return is long. Sakkari holds!!!
What. A. Game. The drama.
I for one am exhausted. But Sakkari looks stronger than ever.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova is bringing an ace and a forehand winner to the table, just when she needs it. She holds to love. What is going on.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6, 6-6 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari is going to default setting - hitting her way out of trouble. The problem is, sometimes that's exactly how she finds trouble.
This game though, she's brought it back. Beyond one long forehand, she finds a way - her shots are clinging to the line - and she holds. Phewf. We're just shy of three hours now, and there's no third set tie-break. We're pushing on until someone wins this by two games.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 6-5 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
In an error-strewn game for Sakkari, Krejcikova is focused as ever. She holds for 15, and now Sakkari is behind for the first time since she was 1-0 down in this set. What a turnaround.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6, 5-5 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari's forehand goes long. Not a great start. Her second forehand goes long too. This has got to be agonising for her team, as she disputes the decision briefly.
Krejcikova knows the nerves are shaking Sakkari and she's just hitting it back to her at this point, waiting for an error. But Sakkari is more patient this time. And she forces the error out of her opponent. 15-30. A clutch serve follows, and she evens things up at 30-30.
Huge point next. And it's Sakkari who blinks - her forehand crashing into the net and Krejcikova with a break point. Is Sakkari thinking about that previous match point in the last game?
No, no she's not - she serves, and then moves into the return to hit a cross-court backhand which is what you can only call clutch again. Even Krejcikova applauded.
But again Sakkari is her own worst enemy - in an awful decision she tries to hit a drop shot and it is too short. Second break point for Krejcikova. The Czech starts flinging looping shots over to Sakkari and the Greek is trying to send them right back. Krejcikova is solid though, and her angled-backhand betters Sakkari. She breaks back and we're all square in this set. Sakkari is going to be kicking herself.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 4-5 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova's backhand goes long and Sakkari is 15-30 up. But the Greek hits her forehand into the net and it's 30-30. You can feel the nerves on both sides of the court.
Sakkari hits a brilliant return and Krejcikova's shot clips the net, bouncing high and back into her side of the court to give Sakkari match point.
But the Czech deals with the pressure brilliantly - forcing Sakkari into the corner of the court before smashing a backhand winner at her. Next, her serve gives her the advantage and Krejcikova holds when Sakkari's backhand goes long. She hangs on - and now Sakkari must serve for her place in the final.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6, 3-5 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Big backhand winner down the line to start this positively for Sakkari. But having built up a cracking point she sends her smash long next.
Sakkari's backhand down the line only just grazes the line in the next point, and the umpire comes out of his chair to check. But she's up, 30-15.
A serve down the T - her go-to when in danger - is too strong for Krejcikova. And Krejcikova's miss into the net gifts Sakkari the hold.
The crowd is chanting Sakkari's name again. Can she will herself to the final, or does Krejcikova have more in her? She's serving to stay in this semi-final next.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 3-4 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova is still making some wonderful shots. She hits a drop shot, Sakkari chases it down to hit a passing shot down the line but the Czech is wise to it and guides a cross-court volley out of reach.
At 30-30 she is playing Sakkari out of her skin, as the Greek is forced from end to end of her baseline. Krejcikova's backhand winner holds onto the inside of the tramlines, and she then goes on to hold to keep herself in this semi-final.
Sakkari still up a break but she is far from home and dry.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6, 2-4 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova has found her range again, and I don't know what's happening anymore. How many fluctuations can one player - and one match - have?
She goes 0-30 up when Sakkari hits her slice into the net.
Sakkari brings one point back with a brilliant serve down the T. Then the second with a winner. She wears Krejcikova down next, and hits some brave backhands in that rally to set up game point. Krejcikova hits her forehand into the net, Sakkari having played patient but gutsy tennis and the Greek holds.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 2-3 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova is like a player biding her time - but you wonder what for? One moment she's hitting a double fault, the next she's hitting a backhand winner down the line with the kind of precision she's been hiding for the past hour. She holds easily, and is very much still in this - albeit a break down.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6, 1-3 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
There is SO much n the line with every point here, and some of Sakkari's flagrant shots are displaying the nerves at hand. She's taking her time with her serve in this game, trying to calm herself down. But she tries to go big again and hits a forehand into the net. 15-30, Krejcikova.
Sakkari follows it up with a big serve next, Krejcikova hitting a horror return almost at the umpire's chair, and the Greek shouts up at her box. She's being very vocal as she forces another error from her opponent and it's 40-30. But Krejcikova suddenly awakes from her slumber, and brings it to deuce by hanging onto a tiresome, long rally, hitting a winner.
Petchey sums it up: "It's like getting a question from John Inverdale, you never know what's coming next." Quite.
Sakkari tightens up, hitting another shot into the net and Krejcikova has break-back point. But she can't outlast Sakkari in the next long rally and blinks first to hit her backhand into the net. Sakkari wins the next two points - despite more distractions from up in the stands, where a group of fans seem to be watching football on their phones - and she holds. Sakkari 3-1 up.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 1-2 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari tries to hit a passing shot, but Krejcikova casual as you like hits a backhand drop shot which stops dead and even the Greek is applauding those quick hands.
But Krejcikova starts racking up the errors again. And hits two baseline shots long to gift Sakkari the break.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6, 1-1 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari hits a forehand winner down the line to start her service game. A fist pump to fire her up follows.
But at 40-0 up she chases down a drop shot and fires a backhand into the net. Next she pounces on a short return, and then blasts a forehand smash into the net. She needs to keep her cool.
Krejcikova hits a drop shot, and Sakkari chases the ball down at great speed, gets low and scoops the ball cross court, hugging the sideline. She screams in celebration. We're on serve.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-6, 1-0* Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Can Sakkari keep her cool after that break? The first point suggests not - her forehand going wayward. Mark Petchey in commentary is reminding us all, she does not need to overplay while Krejcikova remains far from her best here. But Sakkari is not finding the court in this game and Krejcikova holds to love.
We're waiting on Krejcikova..
The crowd are chanting "Maria! Maria!". Krejcikova is off the court, for a bathroom break. And it's been over seven minutes. Sakkari is unimpressed. As are the crowd, who are jeering as Krejcikova returns and takes her sweet time to organise her towels at her chair.
SAKKARI TAKES THE SECOND SET: Krejcikova* 7-5, 4-6 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari recovers from 15-30 down to 40-30 and set point - taking note of her previous anxious moments while ahead, and showing patience to break Krejcikova down.
But she tries to hit a forehand winner to close it out, and it crashes into the net. The nerves showed there, and we're at deuce.
Cool as you like though, she hits her first ace to get a second set point. But again, her forehand lets her down and she hits her ball long enough that you can't see where it bounced.
An error from Krejcikova gifts her a third attempt to close out the set. Sakkari hits a drop shot and Krejcikova chases it down, but Sakkari isn't letting this opportunity pass again - she launches a backhand cross court and Krejcikova can't return it.
Sakkari is jumping up and down and shouting "Vamos!" as she encourages the crowd to get loud. And they are well on side.
We're into a decider everybody - and it's well-deserved.
Krejcikova 7-5, 4-5 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Two aces from Krejcikova in this game to hold, and put the pressure on Sakkari to serve it out and force a decider.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 3-5 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari holds to love. BIG message sent there, she's not letting up - even though she's had some shakey moments.
Krejcikova must serve to stay in the second set next.
Mark Petchey reminds us that Krejcikova has spent 17 hours on court this tournament - as she is also in the semi-finals of the women's doubles. Could that play a factor here? She is playing against one of the fittest players on the tour.
How about this for a stat?
First we need to get there of course, but...
It's not gone to 3 sets YET, but if it does ...
Sakkari is 5-6 in 3-set matches in 2021.
Krejcikova? 8-1. (That '1' coming vs Iga Swiatek in Rome.)
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) June 10, 2021
Krejcikova 7-5, 3-4* Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari is showing more patience, and she has two break points at 15-40. She hits two errors though, and after the second implores the umpire to do something about a noise in the crowd where she says she can hear a television on - which distracted her. Deuce.
Sakkari still one break up, but she needs to keep her focus here. Big service game coming up.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 2-4 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Under pressure at 30-30 Sakkari hits a rocket forhand down the line. But at game point she tries to do the exact same thing, and misses - badly. Deuce.
Krejcikova starts wearing her down, patiently pushing Sakkari around the court and earns a break-back point. Sakkari hits her shot long next, and Krejcikova puts away a backhand winner. That came from nowhere really, and again was Sakkari's own doing in part as she tried to do too much. She can't let this lead run away from her in the way she did the first set.
Krejcikova 7-5, 1-4 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova's baseline game is still not there - and is actually hitting far too long far too much, or hitting into the net.
When she changes her tact and starts net approach shots, and it works, in particular a beautiful drop shot which gives her a bit of a lift. She holds eventually, and stops Sakkari's run of four consecutive games won.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 0-4 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Some nervy moments in that game as Sakkari lets Krejcikova back in it to 30-30.
But she backtracks on the baseline to chases down a deep ball, hitting a sliding forehand to force an error out of Krejcikova. Another ball into the net from Krejcikova and Sakkari holds. She's 4-0 up.
Krejcikova 7-5, 0-3 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
This is feeling like a real fight at every point, and Sakkari is coming up on top as the rallies go on longer - her slice catching out her opponent time and again. She is being patient and it's paying off.
At 30-30, Krejcikova hits a double fault and Sakkari has the opportunity to get a two-break cushion in this second set. Krejcikova's backhand goes into the net and Sakkari lets out a huge scream. The comeback is well and truly on.
Krejcikova* 7-5, 0-2 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari holds - her second hold in five service games and her team are on their feet again. She needs to keep hold of this momentum.
Krejcikova 7-5, 0-1 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
What a way to respond - Sakkari breaks Krejcikova emphatically at the first time of asking. A cross-court forehand clinches it, and Tom Hill and team are on their feet in the player's box.
Can she find consistency though.
FIRST SET - KREJCIKOVA: Krejcikova* 7-5 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari's forehand goes wide, but that was all Krejcikova's doing as she is FINALLY finding her range. 0-15.
Sakkari responds though with a serve down the T and then hitting a backhand winner off the return.
Then Sakkari hits her first serve wide, but makes the long walk to the net to double check - and then hits a double fault. That is bad timing. Her next forehand goes long, and Krejcikova has two set points, having done very little work in this game.
Sakkari's forehand clips the net in the next point and goes wide. Krejcikova - somehow - has won the first set.
That was anxious play from Sakkari in the pressure moments and she will have to shake it off if she wants to get back into this.
Krejcikova 6-5 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
I can't tell you who is going to take this match - good luck to anyone who tries to predict it - because Krejcikova just held to love with a really confident service game. Pressure back in Sakkari's court.
Krejcikova* 5-5 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
This match is a mess of momentum swings, but it's firmly working for Sakkari now.
Krejcikova cannot find the baseline as the errors keep flowing and Sakkari hits a brilliant serve she cannot return next. Another long forehand and backhand from Krejcikova and Sakkari holds to love.
We're all square folks.
Krejcikova 5-4 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari draws errors from Krejcikova and then hits a heavy forehand winner to go 0-40 up and earn three break-back points. She shouts "Come on" before finishing the game off to bring things back on serve. What a response after the last game, where her game crumbled.
Now Sakkari must serve to stay in the set.
Krejcikova* 5-3 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari is capitulating - Krejcikova is applying consistent pressure and the Greek is making errors to go 0-40 down.
She saves one break point. But then when Krejcikova chases down Sakkari's drop shot and lobs the ball over the net, the Greek cannot reach it.
Krejcikova is up a break - and she's won the last four games as she prepares to serve for the first set. What a turnaround.
Krejcikova 4-3 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Krejcikova has finally arrived in this semi-final and holds to go ahead 4-3. She looks confident and is playing with more purpose.
Did Sakkari waste her chance? Feels like she really should have take advantage of Krejcikova's slow start but got in her own way. Pressure back on her to hold now.
Krejcikova* 3-3 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
These two players are chalk and cheese when it comes to their on-court personas. Sakkari is pumped up, vocal and energetic. Krejcikova is more subdued, more subtle in her approach.
Sakkari's tactics have been working best so far, but she can be her own worst enemy - and there's a hint of urgency about how she's trying to close out these points which feels unnecessary when Krejcikova is not playing her best yet.
Sakkari does eventually show some patience to go 40-30 up. But Krejcikova finally shows some variety, approaching the net with a dead drop shot. Her next return throws Sakkari off balance, and the Greek sends her forehand wide. Suddenly it's break point to the Czech.
Krejcikova's return goes long though, and she finally shows some frustration - gesturing to her team with her arms flung out wide about that error. On the next point she approaches the net again, this time hitting aggressive backhands to catch Sakkari out - and earn another break point. Sakkari hits into the net and Krejcikova puts us back on serve in this semi-final.
Sakkari will be disappointed by that.
Krejcikova 2-3 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari is moving well, and finding great length while Krejcikova seems yet to have really got into this match.
Sakkari goes 0-30 up on the Czech's serve, but is sensing the nerves on the other side of the net and tries too hard on a return, sending it into the net. She learns from her mistake though and her next return is backhand winner. The Greek has two more break points.
She wastes both with errors into the net though.
Krejcikova responds with an ace - much-disputed by Sakkari, but it was found to just caress the line. Krejcikova can't cope with Sakkari's slice forehand though and we're back on deuce.
Krejcikova struggles to close the game out, hitting a double fault at one point. But Sakkari again tries to do too much on the return, sending it wide, and Krejcikova holds her serve for the first time in this match with a forehand winner.
Sakkari still a break up.
Krejcikova* 1-3 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari is the first to hold serve, after holding her nerve at 30-30 - hitting a brave forehand down the line and into the corner of the court.
She goes 3-1 up, as Krejcikova hits the net tape.
Krejcikova 1-2 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
The Czech is trying to move Sakkari around the court this service game, and it does work. But she is making a few too many unforced errors and Sakkari is up a break point again.
Krejcikova hits her backhand into the net and is broken. Neither player has held serve yet.
Krejcikova* 1-1 Sakkari (*denotes the next server)
A more competitive game here as both players feel their way into this match.
Sakkari and Krejcikova go toe-to-toe from the baseline, before Sakkari guides a deft drop shot over the net.
But soon after a few errors from the Greek gives Krejcikova the opportunity to immediately break back. Krejcikova sends a few high-bouncing balls Sakkari's way, and the Greek can't resist a smash - but she sends it long. We're back on serve.
A reminder: these two have played each other twice - and Sakkari never won a set in previous match ups.
Krejcikova 0-1 Sakkari* (*denotes the next server)
Sakkari is already fist pumping as she leads 15-30 on Krejcikova's serve.
She hits deep to force an error off Krejcikova and is two break points up. Krejcikova sends her forehand long and the Greek gets the ideal start.
We're about to begin here
Krejcikova to serve first.
What we know about Sakkari
Ahead of the Australian Open, we caught up with Sakkari who told us about her love of fantasy football, the influence of her young British coach Tom Hill and her Spartan heritage.
Read it here.
Krejcikova on her former coach Jana Novotna
The semi-finalist was coached and mentored early on in her career by fellow Czech player Novotna - the 1998 Wimbledon champion, who tragically passed away in 2017 from cancer aged 49.
This is what Krejcikova said she imagined Novotna's reaction would be to her making a major semi-final.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 9, 2021
We have Sakkari vs Krejcikova. Who have you got?
🇬🇷 Sakkari ⚡ Krejcikova 🇨🇿
La surprise tchèque et la battante grecque s'affrontent pour une place en finale. Vos prédictions ? #RolandGarros
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 10, 2021
Not forgetting the incredible run Zidansek has been on
The unseeded player, who had never been past the second round of a major before this French Open, should be incredibly proud of her performances. A name now definitely on our radar.
What an incredible run it's been for Tamara Zidansek - we barely knew her before this tournament, let's be honest.
Now nobody who watched one of her matches is going to forget her.
She will break the top 50 for the first time, and (I hope) be feted by Slovenia as she deserves.
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) June 10, 2021
This is some stat
Pavlyuchenkova proving that you should never give up on your dreams:
Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (@NastiaPav) is the 1st Russian woman to advance to a Slam final since 2015 (Sharapova, AO).
She is the 1st woman to play more than 50 majors before reaching her first major final.
Defeats Tamara Zidansek 75 63.#RG21 pic.twitter.com/XZoqrJV7Nd
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) June 10, 2021
We hear from the winner
Pavlyuchenkova takes on the post-match interview in French, and she says she doesn't know what to say, she's unsure how to react but knows she's extremely emotional.
She says she was looking at her brother, thinking about the tactics to get through this match, and then thanks her friend who came from Dubai especially to watch her play today.
Though Zidansek had some of the more blockbuster moments of that match, Pavlyuchenkova was consistent enough to hold off the threat and finally fulfil the promise she has shown since she was a junior.
PAVLYUCHENKOVA WINS!! Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 6-3 Zidansek
Pavlyuchenkova wears Zidansek down in the first point, as the Slovenian sends her backhand into the net.
Then a backhand cross court approach winner gears Pavlyuchenkova up to 30-0. She's two points away.
But here comes Zidansek - her own backhand winner keeping her hopes alive. 30-15.
A brilliant serve by Pavlyuchenkova and we have double match point. Her first serve clatters the net. Then Zidansek forces her to defend this point for her life - but the Slovenian's backhand goes wide and Pavlyuchenkova is into the final of Roland Garros.
Ever the quarter-finalist, 52 major appearances later - she's finally made it. And her reaction is cool as you like.
Pavlyuchenkova* 7-5, 5-3 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
At 30-30 this feels like the biggest point of the match - and Zidansek sends her backhand long.
Pavlyuchenkova with the opportunity to break again and then serve for the match - and so it is, as Zidansek's forehand goes wide.
Can the Russian cope with the pressure of serving for a place in a grand slam final?
Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 4-3 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Zidansek goes 0-30 up after Pavlyuchenkova hits a double fault - that's six points in a row for the Slovenian.
She defends well in a vibrant rally next, and opens up to hit a trademark forehand winner to go two break points up.
Pavlyuchenkova saves the first, but double faults again at a crucial moment to gift the break back to Zidansek. We're back on serve everyone.
Pavlyuchenkova* 7-5, 4-2 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
Zidansek is back in the building. She holds to love, finishing off points quickly and efficiently, and throwing in a backhand winner no less.
Can she break back next?
Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 4-1 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Still no sign of that trainer as we motor on.
Pavlyuchenkova starts this game with clinical finishing, hitting two winners to go 40-0 up.
Zidansek is looking nervous now, and has no reply to this new level Pavlyuchenkova has found - as the Russian holds to go 4-1 up.
Zidansek needs to buck up and find some energy - and quick - or this semi-final might run away from her.
Pavlyuchenkova* 7-5, 3-1 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
We're hearing Pavlyuchenkova has called for the trainer to come on the court, but this game continues to go ahead. She's showing little sign of discomfort as she slides to retrieve a wide shot and hits a forehand winner down the line.
Zidansek then misses a drop shot and Pavlyuchenkova is up 15-30. She defends brilliantly against Zidansek's relentless hitting in the next point, and forces an error out of the Slovenian - two break points.
Zidansek is caught off balance by Pavlyuchenkova's return, and hits her forehand into the net. A tame way to be broke.
Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 2-1 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Zidansek is not going to roll over. She pounces on Pavlyuchenkova's second serve with a forehand return winner. Then she wins the net point with a smash, and she's up two break points at 40-15.
Pavlyuchenkova's double fault gifts her the break back - a meek way to give up such a hard fought break. We're back on serve.
Pavlyuchenkova* 7-5, 2-0 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
Pavlyuchenkova is moving really well this game. She reads a drop shot from Zidansek well enough to go all square at deuce.
Zidansek has lost some of her consistency. She responds with a fiery winner, but then can't close out the game as she hits another double fault. Then Pavlyuchenkova pushes her onto her backhand again, stretching her further and further outside the tramlines, before charging forwards with a beautifully placed drop shot to set up break point.
Zidansek responds as she often does - a forehand winner to get her out of trouble. Then her drop shot goes wide next, and Pavlyuchenkova is up a break point again. Zidansek can't hold on anymore and she hits her backhand into the net. She's in trouble - now a set and a break down.
Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 1-0 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Pavlyuchenkova's focus right now is unnerving, and she whizzes to 40-15 on her serve, hitting a particularly clinical smash in the game.
But Zidansek is far from out of this, and she responds by grinding back to deuce after chasing down some tough shots. She then sets up a break point and Pavlyuchenkova's focus turns to frustration as she bounces her racket on the ground after having lost her lead.
But the Russian is keeping steady, and a couple of Zidansek mis-hits sees Pavlyuchenkova hold eventually - finishing off the game with a forehand winner of her own.
Pavlyuchenkova* 7-5 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
PAVLYUCHENKOVA TAKES THE FIRST SET
Zidansek sends a forehand extremely wide, and then Pavlyuchenkova starts working her around the court to go 15-30 up. Another couple of heavy backhands forces Zidansek's forehand long in the next point, and Pavlyuchenkova has two set points.
Zidansek then hits a disappointing double fault in an anti-climactic end to what has been a thrilling first set. Pavlyuchenkova nudges herself ahead in this semi-final, but with as many momentum swings as we've already seen, I doubt this will be a simple next set.
A look back at that CRAZY point when Pavlyuchenkova was serving for the set.
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 10, 2021
Pavlyuchenkova 6-5 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Zidansek's forehand down the line wins the first point on Pavlyuchenkova's serve.
She then draws an error from the Russian to go 15-30 up soon after. The next point feels crucial.
Pavlyuchenkova pushes Zidansek onto her backhand time and again in the next point, but the Slovenian hits a beauty cross court winner off it to earn two break points.
Pavlyuchenkova is dealing well under the pressure though, she holds her nerve and serves her way to deuce. After a tussle on the next few points, Pavlyuchenkova successfully holds - and Zidansek must now serve to stay in the first set. Pressure on the 23-year-old.
Pavlyuchenkova* 5-5 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
Zidansek's backhand is drawing some errors and Pavlyuchenkova is preying on that. But Zidansek holds to 30, and we're all square at 5-5.
Pavlyuchenkova 5-4 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
This was the most dramatic game of the match so far!
Pavlyuchenkova forges to a 30-15 lead thanks to two unreturned serves. But she spends most of the next point defending an aggressive Zidansek, and her forehand goes into the net.
A brilliant rally comes next at 30-30. Pavlyuchenkova's drop shot looks like she was about to beat Zidansek, but the Slovenian chased the ball down to just edge her own drop shot over the net. Pavlyuchenkova tries to lob her then, and Zidansek thrusts up her racket to reach the ball - she isn't even facing the net, it was a total shot in the dark. But it somehow clings to the baseline and Zidansek earns a break point.
Though Pavlyuchenkova saved the next point, Zidansek chases down another drop shot to go up a second break point. Pavlyuchenkova uses her serve to get out of trouble again, but a forehand winner puts Zidansek in the driving seat soon after - with a third break point. Pavlyuchenkova can't stop her this time - and sends her backhand long under pressure.
Zidansek breaks back and we're on serve. This match has really upped the intensity in the last five minutes or so - Zidansek in particular mixing things up now.
Pavlyuchenkova* 5-3 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
Zidansek starts off with a forehand winner and then a sublime drop shot to go 30-0 up.
Her forehand takes centre stage again in the next point and she opens up with another cross court winner which Pavluchenkova can but watch. According to the stats, her topspin forehand is averaging nearly 80mph - similar numbers to Rafa Nadal no less.
But then Pavlyuchenkova grinds back to deuce, and a double fault from Zidansek gifts the Russian a break point at what could be a crucial stage of this set. Zidansek goes for the big forehand again, and it veers wide.
Pavlyuchenkova to serve for the set next. Big moment.
Pavlyuchenkova 4-3 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Pavlyuchenkova goes 30-0 up and this game was looking routine but then Zidansek stretches her to level up at 30-30. The young Slovenian then over eggs two forehands which go long, giving Pavlyuchenkova the hold.
Pavlyuchenkova* 3-3 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
Zidansek matches Pavlyuchenkova with her own strong hold, complete with ace. She's fired up, and both players look laser-focused at the moment. Very difficult to know which way it will swing.
Pavlyuchenkova 3-2 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Pavlyuchenkova is finding her form now. A quick serving game again to hold, keeping points short and stopping Zidansek from opening up that blistering forehand.
Pavlyuchenkova* 2-2 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
Pavlyuchenkova speeds to 0-40 to set up three break-back points. But Zidansek ups the tempo and saves all three to deuce.
Zidansek fluffs an overhead smash with the sun in her eyes though, and Pavlyuchenkova gets her fourth chance to break. She moves up to the net throughout the rally, taking an aggressive approach and moving the Slovenian across the baseline and Zidansek hits her forehand into the net. Pavlyuchenkova breaks and we're back on serve.
Pavlyuchenkova 1-2 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
A brilliant service game from Pavlyuchenkova sees her hold to love, thanks to a few unplayable serves, and she gets her name up on the scoreboard.
Pavlyuchenkova* 0-2 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
There's that big forehand against from Zidansek - and she holds to love.
Pavlyuchenkova looking much more nervous than her 23-year-old opponent.
Pavlyuchenkova 0-1 Zidansek* (*denotes next server)
Pavlyuchenkova looks like she's on her way to an easy hold, but an error and Zidansek's powerful forehand see the players on deuce.
Zidansek then sets up her first break point, which Pavlyuchnekova saves with a cool ace before sending her forehand into the net for a second break point. Her approach shot goes long, and Zidansek gets the early break.
Pavlyuchenkova* 0-0 Zidansek (*denotes next server)
We're underway - Pavlyuchenkova serves first.
Earlier today, Briton Joe Salisbury won the mixed-doubles title with his partner Desirae Krawczyk!
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) June 10, 2021
The players are out
We're almost up and running on women's semi-finals day. Zidansek and Pavlyuchenkova are warming up.
Zidansek is flying Slovenia's flag
Zidansek is the first woman representing Slovenia to advance to a Slam semi-final. Not pressure, especially when your coach is saying this pre-match:
Via @WTA, some more incredible quotes from Zidansek's coach.
I feel like being told I was responsible for the happiness of 2 million people in Slovenia would kind of put me off my game, but I guess that's why I'm not a French Open semifinalist 😬https://t.co/VVKJvFaHph pic.twitter.com/1T7QFe8tXQ
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) June 10, 2021
Pavlyuchenkova's long-awaited break-through
Pavlyuchenkova has reached the last eight of every Grand Slam, but she always stumbled at that point. Her first appearance was here at Roland Garros, 10 years ago when she was a teenager. The 29-year-old made it seventh-time lucky to progress to the last four today. Can she go one better?
If she does, she will become the first woman to play more than 50 majors before reaching her first final.
Fun facts about our first two semi-finalists
Pavlyuchenkova has struck a tournament-leading 155 winners en route to the last-four.
Zidansek's sporting career began as a junior champion snowboarder before she tried tennis.
Hello and welcome...
... to today's coverage of the French Open women's semi-finals! If the quarter-finals are anything to go by, today is set to be full of drama.
The entire fortnight has been unexpected in every way in the women's side of the draw, with only one top 10 player progressing to the last-eight due to drop outs, injuries and some shock results.
None more so than Maria Sakkari's win over reigning champion Iga Swiatek in straight sets yesterday. Though Swiatek was struggling at points with an underlying injury, the result was a major upset - one which ended her 11-match, 22-set winning streak in Paris.
It means Sakkari becomes the first Greek woman to reach a major semi-final in singles, and moves into the last four as the top seed left in the draw - at 17th - and probably the favourite to lift the trophy.
Before a ball is even hit though, today is already history-making. Barbora Krejcikova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Sakkari and Tamara Zidansek are all appearing in the last four at a major for the first time. This has only happened at one other Grand Slam tournament in the Open Era - the 1978 Australian Open, when Diane Evers, Christine Matison, Betsy Nagelsen and Chris O’Neil were the four semi-finalists.
The first semi-final, between Pavlyuchenkova and Zidansek is perhaps the most difficult to predict. Zidansek is ranked 85 in the world, and competing in only her fifth main draw appearance at a slam. Meanwhile Pavlyuchenkova has heaps of experience, this being her 53rd major appearance and regularly appearing inside the top 30 over her career.
The Russian's best previous result at Roland Garros was a quarter-final appearance 10 years ago and she beat two major threats in Victoria Azarenka and Aryna Sabalenka on her way to the semi-final. But neither she nor Zidansek have ever played each other, so there is an unknown quality to this one.
Later, Krejcikova - also unseeded - will face Sakkari. The Czech lies just outside the top 30 in the world, but beat Elina Svitolina, Sloane Stephens and Coco Gauff to get to this point - proving she has the ability to rise in big moments. In her two previous meetings with Sakkari - including in Dubai earlier this year - Krejcikova got the better of the Greek and will take confidence from that.
We will be here all afternoon with live updates and build up of the action - beginning at 2pm.