Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova has been rewarded for her try, try and try again perseverance as the Russian stalwart beat Tamara Zidansek 7-5 6-3 to make the French Open final at Roland Garros.
The 29-year-old Pavlyuchenkova, once a teenage prodigy, becomes the first woman ever to play more than 50 grand slams before reaching her first final with her accomplished last-four win in the Paris sunshine on Thursday.
With all the combatants in the last four in their maiden slam semis, opportunity knocked for the unlikely quartet but Pavlyuchenkova, who had never previously been able to get past the quarter-final despite six attempts, was not about to miss out in her 52nd slam.
The 31st seed, a warm favourite to defeat the unseeded world No.85 Zidansek, overcame a nervy start on a hot, humid day on Court Philippe Chatrier in which she went 2-0 down to gradually take control of the contest with her all-court solidity.
Zidansek, a 23-year-old former junior snowboard star who had never been past the second round of a grand slam before, went for broke as she fired in 27 winners, many from her sweet forehand, but her inexperience told.
Pavlyuchenkova, who has cracked more winners than anyone in the women’s draw, hammered 19 more to take her total to 174 but it was the higher error count from the erratic Zidansek which proved significant as she sprayed 32 errant shots over one hour 34 minutes.
Pavlyuchenkova, who had begun to look as if she was struggling physically a little in the heat, kept targeting the Slovenian’s backhand and looked in total command in the second set at 4-1 up, but a two double-fault game saw her gift an opportunity to her opponent.
Yet she kept her nerve to break Zidansek’s vulnerable serve for the sixth time in the match and set up a final date with either Greece’s 17th seed Maria Sakkari or unseeded Czech Barbora Krejcikova.
She has also become the first Russian woman to make a slam final since Maria Sharapova lost to Serena Williams in the Australian Open in January 2015.