PARIS (Reuters) -Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova finally reached a Grand Slam semi-final at the 52nd time of asking as she beat Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina 6-7(2) 6-2 9-7 at the French Open on Tuesday.
Six times the 29-year-old had lost at the quarter-final stage of one of the four majors, but she used all her experience to overcome her doubles partner in a gruelling scrap despite some early nerves.
“Mentally, it was too tough,” said Pavlyuchenkova. “I was super nervous this morning but that’s tennis. We both wanted to win it’s normal, it’s sports. It was important to return her serves, it was the key for me.”
Rybakina, 21, looked in control of her first Grand Slam quarter-final when she opened up a 4-1 lead in the first set but Pavlyuchenkova hit back to force a tiebreak.
The Russian took the momentum into the second set to level the match and kept her nose ahead in a tense finale.
Rybakina, who beat Serena Williams in the fourth round, held serve three times to stay alive in the third set.
But the 21st seed failed at the fourth time of asking, ending the contest in tame fashion with a double-fault.
Pavlyuchenkova will face fellow semi-final debutant Tamara Zidansek for a place in Saturday’s final after the Slovenian also came though a long battle, against Spain’s Paula Badosa.
Despite 12 WTA titles throughout her career Pavlyuchenkova has never made a big impact at a Grand Slam.
When Rybakina began as she finished against Williams on Sunday, calmly picking her spots to build a big lead, it seemed Pavlyuchenkova was heading for another quarter-final exit, having lost three at the Australian Open and one each at the other three Slams.
The Russian did well to claw her way back but the tiebreak got away from her as she went 5-0 down and a backhand return into the net gave up the set to her 21-year-old opponent.
Pavlyuchenkova, seeded 31, got the first break in the second set in the sixth game despite slipping over while hoisting a lob that Rybakina smashed into the net.
The third set came down to a battle of wills with Pavlyuchenkova edging it to reach a maiden Grand Slam semi-final in one fewer attempt than the record 53 needed by Czech Barbora Strycova when she did it at Wimbledon in 2019.
Pavlyuchenkova said her fighting instincts made the difference.
“When I’m on the court, I’m doing my job and I fight, and I want to kill my opponent every time I play. So that’s the difference,” she said.
(Reporting by Martyn Herman; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Ken Ferris)