Maria Sakkari ended defending champion Iga Swiatek's 11-match and 22-set winning streaks at the French Open on Wednesday and reached the semifinals of a major tournament for the first time. (More Sports News)
The 17th-seeded Sakkari used strong and steady baseline play to eliminate Swiatek 6-4, 6-4 at Court Philippe Chatrier in the quarterfinals and ensure that the clay-court tournament will end with a new Grand Slam champion.
“I couldn’t have done it without my team and their support and I just want to thank them and we still have a long way to go, of course,” Sakkari said, “but we made a huge step today.”
All four women remaining in the field are making their Slam semifinal debuts. This is only the second time in the professional era that's been the case at any major tournament, according to the WTA; there also was a quartet of first-time semifinalists at the 1978 Australian Open.
On Thursday, Sakkari plays unseeded Barbora Krejcikova, and No. 31 Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova faces unseeded Tamara Zidansek.
Krejcikova advanced earlier Wednesday by beating 17-year-old Coco Gauff 7-6 (6), 6-3.
Sakkari, who is from Greece, and Krejcikova, who is from the Czech Republic, are both 25. Each has won only one tour-level title. Neither had been past the fourth round at a major until now.
And both dealt with early deficits Wednesday.
Swiatek, a 20-year-old from Poland who has looked untouchable on clay, jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but then Sakkari took over, collecting eight of 10 games. When Sakkari smacked a backhand winner down the line to close a 15-stroke point that claimed the first set, she leaned over and punched the air with her right fist.
That ended Swiatek’s set streak at Roland Garros, which dated to the beginning of last year's tournament, when she dropped only 28 games in all. She’d only lost 20 games this year through four matches.
But Sakkari, who beat 2020 French Open runner-up Sofia Kenin in straight sets in her previous match, used clean strokes — accumulating 26 winners, nine more than her opponent — and a strategy of serving to Swiatek’s forehand to gain control.
Down 2-0 in the second set, Swiatek took a medical timeout and left the court with a trainer, returning with her upper right leg taped. During the break, Sakkari tried to stay warm by hopping and skipping side-to-side behind the baseline and did not lose a beat when play resumed.
In the day's first quarterfinal, Gauff led 3-0 at the outset, then 5-3, and held a total of five set points in the opener, but failed to convert any. Krejcikova grabbed that set by taking the last four points of the tiebreaker and reeled off 15 consecutive points during one stretch en route to a 5-0 edge in the second set.
Closing out the most important victory of her singles career was not easy, though: Krejcikova needed six match points to do it, raising her arms overhead when she finally won when Gauff sent a forehand wide.
Krejcikova has won two Grand Slam doubles titles with Katerina Siniakova — and they're into the semifinals in Paris — but is playing in only her fifth major tournament in singles.
“Everybody, they just put a label on me like, ‘Yeah, you play doubles. You are a doubles specialist.’ But I never thought I just want to be a doubles specialist,” Krejcikova said.
“So I was just working hard all the time. I just wanted to play singles. It was really, like, frustrating that I just wasn’t able to get there," she said. "But I always felt ... sooner or later, I’m just going to get there.”
Look at her now. She's ranked a career-high 33rd and on a 10-match winning streak in singles.
Krejcikova ended the nine-match run of the 24th-seeded Gauff, who is based in Florida and was the youngest French Open quarterfinalist since 2006. Gauff's 41 unforced errors included seven double-faults — and after one, she mangled her racket frame by whacking it three times against the ground.
“My hitting partner told me this match will probably make me a champion in the future,” Gauff said.
“I really do believe that.”
The men’s quarterfinals later Wednesday were 13-time champion Rafael Nadal vs. Diego Schwartzman, and Novak Djokovic vs. Matteo Berrettini.
Gauff vs. Krejickova began in the late morning with the temperature in the low 70s Fahrenheit (low 20s Celsius), a blue sky and no wind.
After the number of fans in the 15,000-seat main stadium was capped at 1,000 for each of the first 10 days of the tournament because of COVID-19 restrictions, that limit was raised to 5,000 on Wednesday. And those in attendance were loudly pulling for Gauff, who burst onto the scene at Wimbledon two years ago by reaching the fourth round.
Cries of “Allez, Coco!” ("Let's go, Coco!") greeted her winners. Loud clapping of encouragement preceded her service games.
The contrast was striking when Krejcikova broke back on her way to pulling even at 3-all, when only a smattering of polite applause was heard.
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