PARIS (AP) — Tour veteran Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova endured long stretches where she didn’t enjoy tennis, and because her consistency and confidence were so elusive she considered calling it a career.
Her persistence paid off Thursday, when the 29-year-old Russian advanced to her first Grand Slam final by beating unseeded Tamara Zidansek at the French Open, 7-5, 6-3.
Pavlyuchenkova, seeded 31st, is playing in her 52nd major tournament and her 14th French Open. She had been 0-6 in major quarterfinals before finally surmounting that hurdle on Tuesday, and she was steadier than the big-swinging Zidansek in their semifinal.
“I wanted this so much that right now I don’t feel anything,” Pavlyuchenkova told the crowd in French.
Pavlyuchenkova was a top 20 player as a teen, but only now will she play for a major title against the winner of Thursday’s second match — between No. 17-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece and unseeded Barbora Krejcikova of the Czech Republic.
It was only the second time in the professional era that there were four first-time Grand Slam women semifinalists at a major tournament and the first time since the 1978 Australian Open.
Even so, the quality of play in the first match was as enjoyable as the warm, cloudless weather. The 85th-ranked Zidansek, who this week became the first Slovenian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal, was the better player for much of the first set, moving well and hitting the more aggressive groundstrokes.
But Pavlyuchenkova won the most important points, and Zidansek dumped consecutive shaky serves into the net to lose the set.
Pavlyuchenkova’s groundstrokes carried more sting in the second set as she raced to a 4-1 lead. Her first sign of nerves came as she double-faulted twice, including on break point, to make it 4-3, but she broke back and easily served out the victory.
“Tennis is such a mental sport,” she said. “That’s what is really hard about tennis.”
Pavlyuchenkova, who has won 12 tour titles, will climb back into Top 20 next week for first time since January 2018.