Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova held steady to beat an erratic Tamara Zidansek in straight sets on Thursday and reach the French Open final at her 52nd Grand Slam tournament.
The 29-year-old’s 7-5 6-3 win made her the woman with the most attempts ever needed to reach the final of one of the sport’s four majors.
It was reward for her patience throughout a career that has earned her 12 titles but none on the biggest of stages, and for her calmness against a player who blew hot and cold.
Pavlyuchenkova, the oldest of the four first-time semi-finalists here, will play 17th seed Maria Sakkari of Greece or the unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova in Saturday’s final.
“I am so tired and so happy, it is very emotional,” Pavlyuchenkova said on a sunlit Court Philippe Chatrier.
“It was difficult, I tried to fight very hard and to work on the tactical side. It is important to stay focused and in the right zone for the final on Saturday.”
While 31st seed Pavlyuchenkova had reached the quarter-finals at six Grand Slams, Zidansek had only managed three match wins at Grand Slams before arriving in Paris.
Yet the 23-year-old Slovenian has flourished after knocking out former U.S. Open champion Bianca Andreescu in round one.
Her destructive forehand worked well initially and she broke Pavlyuchenkova’s opening service game before holding to love. But she missed a smash at 2-1 as the Russian got back on level terms and then broke for a 5-3 lead.
Zidansek produced an incredible improvised lob volley and crunching forehand winners to break back and was 15-40 when Pavlyuchenkova served at 5-5 but could not convert the chance.
Pavlyuchenkova calmly absorbed Zidansek’s best shots and was gifted the first set with a double-fault.
The Russian forged 4-1 ahead in the second set and snuffed out an attempted Zidansek comeback, clinching victory when her opponent blazed a backhand wide, her 33rd unforced error.
There was little by way of celebration for Pavlyuchenkova who looked relived more than anything as she became the first woman to require 50 or more attempts to reach a Grand Slam final and the first Russian woman to make one since Maria Sharapova lost to Serena Williams at the 2015 Australian Open.
“Definitely, trying to soak this in and enjoy as much as possible this very special moment for me,” Pavlyuchenkova, who took six more Grand Slam appearances to reach a final than previous record holder Roberta Vinci (who reached the U.S. Open final in her 44th in 2015), told reporters.
“I didn’t feel great today. I actually felt I was a bit negative on myself because I thought I expected myself playing better. I just didn’t feel like I was playing good.”
Frenchwoman Marion Bartoli, who won her first Slam at Wimbledon in 2013, aged 28, said Pavlyuchenkova would be a worthy champion if she can triumph on Saturday.
“Not everyone can win their first Grand Slam at 19 or 20 years of age. If she can grab the moment and make that title hers she will deserve it entirely,” she told ITV Sport.
Zidansek was left to rue missed opportunities.
“The fact that I managed to play this well, got this far, just shows me that I can play on the big stage,” she said.