Russia’s 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova continued her late bloom by reaching a first Grand Slam final with a victory over Slovenian Tamara Zidansek in the last four at Roland Garros.
Pavlyuchenkova, 29, was a dominant junior player but had never reached a Grand Slam semi-final before.
Against another debutante at this stage, she won 7-5 6-3 on Parisian clay.
Pavlyuchenkova will face 17th seed from Greece Maria Sakkari or Czech Barbora Krejcikova, who will play later on Thursday.
These two players also participate for the first time in a semi-final of the Grand Slam.
This is the first time since 1978 – and only the second time in the Open era – that a Grand Slam women’s singles tournament has had four debutants in the semi-finals.
Pavlyuchenkova’s greatest experience helps her through
Although Pavlyuchenkova had never played at this level before, she had more experience and pedigree than her 23-year-old opponent, Zidansek.
Pavlyuchenkova had reached six Grand Slam quarter-finals during her career – including at Roland Garros in 2011 – while taking the scalp from Belarusian third seed Aryna Sabalenka and two-time Grand Slam champion Victoria Azarenka in his race to the last four.
In comparison, Zidansek, 85th, had never made it past the second round of a major tournament.
She has also never won a WTA title, nor been ranked in the top 50 in the world, which makes her progress all the more surprising.
The Slovenian, who beat 2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu in the first round, possesses a heavy forehand and the ability to play with variety, opening an intriguing semi-final few would have dared to predict with confidence.
An entertaining first set was delicately balanced at 5-5 after both players broke serve twice, Pavlyuchenkova pinching the opening game when Zidansek produced a nervous double fault on the Russian’s first set point.
Once Pavlyuchenkova broke for a 3-1 lead in the second set, Zidansek looked in danger of collapsing but fought back to break the serve for 4-3 when Pavlyuchenkova also double faulted at a key moment.
However, the Russian pulled herself together again in the next game and served to clinch her spot in Saturday’s final.
After Zidansek hit a backhand in the trams on the first match point, Pavlyunchenkova showed little emotion, seemingly shocked at the scale of her feat and covered in sweat after a hard battle.
“I don’t know what to think because I’m so tired but so happy. It’s so moving, ”she said during her interview on the ground.