If seven wasn’t Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova’s lucky number before, it surely is now. The Russian has tried and failed to reach the semifinals of a Grand Slam on six previous occasions throughout her long career. However, that rather large blemish on her resume has now been removed. The veteran is finally over her quarterfinal hiccups for the first time at the ripe young age of 29. her win against Elena Rybakina means she finally breaks her semifinal duck, and she does so on the clay courts of Paris.
She now faces and opponent she holds a wealth of success and experience over in Tamara Zidansek. Pavlyuchenkova certainly has the game to beat anyone on the tour on her day. Can she now do it twice more and get her hands on the Grand Slam many feel she should have won already?
A career of sustained excellence undermined by a lack of big titles
Unfortunately, the Russian’s record late in big tournaments leaves a lot to be desired. Alongside her 0-6 record in Grand Slam quarterfinals prior to Tuesday, Pavlyuchenkova is 3-7 in WTA 1000 quarterfinals. She lost all three of the semifinals she made in those tournaments as well. In smaller tournaments on the tour the veteran has fared far better, winning 12 of the 20 finals she has featured in. The logical argument given those numbers is that she doesn’t possess the level required to beat the elite players who feature at the back end of big tournaments. However, a look at her record against top ten opponents suggest otherwise.
She has won 36 matches against such opponents in her career, picking up at least one such win every year since 2009. Clearly her issue lies more with the magnitude of the occasion than with who stands across the net from her. The narrative that she is an underperformer despite her sustained success will not go away as long as she remains trophy-less on the biggest stages in the women’s game. However, she is now just two wins away from changing all that in the biggest way possible.
Pavlyuchenkova must pounce now if she is to get her hands on a Grand Slam
The Russian likely won’t get a better chance than this to get her hands on a Grand Slam. This year’s French Open has seen several favourites withdraw due to injuries. Others still have played through injury struggles and have been far from there best. The likes of Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Bianca Andreescu and Ashleigh Barty spring to mind. Add to that the withdrawal of Naomi Osaka and the elimination of Serena Williams and this tournament is wide open. Iga Swiatek remains unmoved, but she may well be the last hurdle Pavlyuchenkova has to face. In the final anything can happen and she must, at the very least, give herself the chance to win it all.
She faces Tamara Zidansek, a talented but relatively unknown player from Slovenia. Zidansek had never made it past the second round of a Grand Slam until this tournament. She is also currently ranked #81 in the world. Pavlyuchenkova has more experience and more talent than Zidansek, even with the Slovenian’s prowess on clay taken into account. A perfect storm of circumstance has presented the Russian with the chance of a lifetime. If she can keep a lid on her nerves and play near her best, she will surely find herself in her first ever major final.
The champion tennis fans around the world would all love to see
Should she make it that far, she will surely have the support of tennis fans the world over. Pavlyuchenkova is a favourite among fans and players alike. She plays the game the right way and has never been anything but a delight throughout her long career. Should she face Iga Swiatek she may face competition as far as the title of fan favourite is concerned. However, I doubt there is a tennis fan alive who would begrudge the Russian finally getting her hands on a Grand Slam trophy.
The world of sport is a funny old thing. For years Pavlyuchenkova tried and failed to break her quarterfinal duck. Now she finds herself the favourite to make the finals of the 2021 edition of Roland Garros. The pressure is surely immense. However, if her quarterfinal is anything to go by then the perennial top 50 player is enjoying every moment of this dream run. Iga Swiatek remains the firm favourite to repeat in Paris, but the Russian has the best chance she is likely to have to lift a major trophy. Don’t expect her to let that opportunity go lying down.
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