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Tsitsipas enters French Open final; Krejcikova, Pavlyuchenkova chase maiden title

Stefanos Tsitsipas became the first Greek player to reach a Grand Slam final on Friday when he defeated Germany’s Alexander Zverev in a bruising five-setter at the French Open.

Fifth-seeded Tsitsipas won 6-3, 6-3, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3 and will face either 13-time champion Rafael Nadal or world number one Novak Djokovic in the championship match.

However, the 22-year-old will have his work cut out on Sunday — he is 2-7 against Nadal and 2-5 playing Djokovic.

“All I can think of is my roots, a small place outside Athens where I dreamed to play on the big stage at the French Open,” said a tearful Tsitsipas on making his first final at the majors, secured on a fifth match point.

“It was nerve-wracking, so intense, I stayed alive. I went out there and fought. This win means a lot, it’s the most important one of my career so far.”

Tsitsipas took a 5-2 career lead over Zverev into the semi-final and he was the first to pounce with the only break of the opening set in the second game.

The rock-solid Greek didn’t give up a single break point although in an indication of the fine margins, Tsitsipas only hit one winner.

Zverev, bidding to become the first German man since Michael Stich in 1996 to reach the final in Paris, raced into a 3-0 lead in the second set.

However, Tsitsipas’ greater composure saw him rack up six consecutive games to move two sets ahead. The Greek had come into the semi-final certainly sharper having seen off three seeded players to get this far.

Zverev had needed five sets to beat his 152nd-ranked compatriot Oscar Otte in the first round and hadn’t faced a player inside the top 45 before Friday.

Meanwhile, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Barbora Krejcikova, two of the most unlikely Grand Slam finalists of the modern era, meet in Saturday’s French Open title match at the conclusion of a shock-heavy tournament.

World number 32 Pavlyuchenkova has reached this stage for the first time at the 52nd attempt, 10 years after making a first Slam quarter-final in Paris.

Krejcikova, ranked one place lower, has long been labelled a doubles specialist and this is just her fifth appearance in a main draw singles at the Slams, having never previously got beyond the last 16.

However, both women have capitalised on a draw where the top seeds fell and just kept falling.

World number one and 2019 champion Ashleigh Barty hobbled out in the second round.

Serena Williams was knocked out in the fourth round, world number two Naomi Osaka withdrew after one match while 2018 champion Simona Halep never even made it to Paris.

“The 14-year-old me would tell me ‘What took you so long?’,” said 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova who played her first Slam event in 2007.

“It’s been a long road. I had my own long special road. Everybody has different ways. I’m happy I’m in the final.”

Pavlyuchenkova is bidding to become the fourth Russian champion at Roland Garros after Anastasia Myskina (2004), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2009) and Maria Sharapova (2012 and 2014).

Always considered to possess the weapons to win a major — she has 37 career wins over top 10 players — Pavlyuchenkova was often written off as “too nice” to succeed when it mattered most.

At the French Open in 2011, she was a set and 4-1 up on defending champion Francesca Schiavone but faltered and a semi-final place slipped away.

“I’m nice to people but I’m not nice at all,” she said.

“I mean, obviously I’m respectful but 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.”

That steely attitude has served her well in Paris this year where she defeated third seed Aryna Sabalenka, former number one Victoria Azarenka as well as doubles partner Elena Rybakina, all in three sets. Rybakina had knocked out Williams in the last-16. Krejcikova is bidding to become just the second Czech women’s champion in Paris, 40 years after Hana Mandlikova triumphed.

The 25-year-old is already a Grand Slam champion, having captured the women’s doubles with Katerina Siniakova at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in 2018.

Her late blossoming as a singles specialist, however, means she has yet to play in the main draw at both the All England Club and US Open.

Indeed, she won eight doubles titles before lifting a maiden singles trophy on clay in Strasbourg on the eve of the French Open.

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