From qualifying to the semis: Podoroska dreams on in Paris

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Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska celebrates winning the quarterfinal match of the French Open tennis tournament against Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in two sets, 6-2, 6-4, at the Roland Garros stadium in Paris, France, Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020. (AP Photo/Michel Euler).

By JEROME PUGMIRE and ANDREW DAMPF – Japan Today –

Nadia Podoroska has already won more matches at this French Open — eight — than it usually takes to raise the trophy.

That’s because the 131st-ranked Argentine has come all the way from qualifying rounds to reach the semifinals, becoming the first woman to achieve that feat at Roland Garros in the Open era.

Having never won a main-draw Grand Slam match before last week, Podoroska could hardly believe it after her 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal victory Tuesday over third-seeded Elina Svitolina on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Asked afterward whether she is pinching herself to make sure it’s not a dream, Podoroska replied: “No. I don’t want to wake up.”

Podoroska is only the third female qualifier to get to the semifinals at any major tournament in the Open era, which began in 1968, and the first since Alexandra Stevenson at Wimbledon in 1999.

Another qualifier, Martina Trevisan of Italy, had a chance to join that list later Tuesday but could not quite take the last step. The 159th-ranked Trevisan, who also had not won a main-draw Grand Slam match before this tournament, lost 6-3, 6-1 to unseeded 19-year-old Iga Swiatek of Poland.

“I’m sad for the match, but it’s an incredible two weeks for me,” said Trevisan, who dropped tennis for 4 1/2 years and returned to the sport in 2014. “So today I close a very important chapter of my life. Tomorrow, other chapters will begin.”

Podoroska, who is from the same city in Argentina as soccer superstar Lionel Messi, said she considered quitting tennis altogether a couple of years ago after “too many injuries,” including to her right wrist.

It didn’t look good: She was off the tour for eight months; her ranking dropped; she didn’t have enough money to travel to tournaments; and she split with a coach she’d been working with for a decade.

“I didn’t know what to do,” Podoroska said.

She stuck with it, though, and now has a new team around her, based in Spain. And she has, by far, the best results of her career.

“I have,” she said, “a lot of confidence.”

STRICTLY TENNIS

Danielle Collins, an unseeded American, was in no mood to discuss anything but tennis after she secured a spot in the quarterfinals for the first time at Roland Garros.

Asked about blowing her nose on changeovers and if she had a cold, Collins snapped back to a reporter in her virtual news conference: “I don’t see the thought process there, and I think it’s not a very good question.”

Then came a query about greater restrictions being put in place in Paris to contain the coronavirus pandemic.

“One of the best things about sports is that people get to watch sports,” Collins responded. “They get to engage in something that’s not COVID related, not political. I’m not going to comment any further on anything going on in terms of the bubble or COVID protocols or what’s going on in Paris. I think that this event brings a lot of positivity to players’ lives. Really, those questions are quite frivolous.

“Obviously we’re in a pandemic and it’s a very serious situation,” Collins added after beating 30th-seeded Ons Jabeur 6-4, 4-6, 6-4. “But I think you should be reporting on the tennis.”

In Collins’ defense, she spent several stressful hours warming up and cooling down on Monday before her match with Jabeur was postponed to Tuesday due to rain.

“Last night we were at the courts for eight to 10 hours waiting to go on,” she said. “So we’re still having to focus on our matches, having to focus on getting warmed up, having to focus on getting treatment, having to do all of the things that we need to do to be able to go out and play matches.”

Collins did not have much time to ponder the pandemic before playing again — on Wednesday — against Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in an all-American matchup in the quarterfinals.

Ons Jabeur drew attention during her fourth-round loss to Danielle Collins as much for her drop shots from all over the court as for a couple of her sumptuous half-volleys with her right foot.

The 30th-seeded Tunisian showed the technique of a soccer player when, after losing a couple of points during her 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 defeat, she booted the ball crisply over the net as if scoring a goal at nearby Parc des Princes. The home of French champion Paris Saint-Germain is located a stone’s throw — or a Jabeur kick — away from Roland Garros.

Turns out those sweet half-volleys were no flukes, either.

“I’ve got two brothers, so I played soccer a lot with them. I love soccer in general. I’m a big fan of (Cristiano) Ronaldo,” she said. “I’m thinking about joining a team, not necessarily a professional one but amateur. Because it’s a sport I love. Even for tennis, it can help me a lot.”

As a fan of superstar Ronaldo, who has amassed nearly 750 career goals in a glittering career, no prizes for guessing which position Jabeur would like to play.

“I like scoring goals,” she said. “Surely I’ll be a forward and try to really score as much as possible.”

Nadal advances

Add “latest-finishing match” and “13 semifinals reached” to the considerable roster of French Open records owned by Rafael Nadal.

The 12-time champion at Roland Garros withstood an early challenge from 19-year-old Jannik Sinner and pulled away to win their quarterfinal 7-6 (4), 6-4, 6-1 in a match that ended at nearly 1:30 a.m. on Wednesday.

Competition can continue that deep into the night in Paris this year because it’s the first time artificial lights are being used for play at the clay-court Grand Slam tournament.

“It’s too late,” Nadal said in French to the hearty souls who stuck around in the stands, before switching to English to say, “But thank you very much for staying until that late under these very tough conditions out here tonight.”

Their quarterfinal began after 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday night. It was the last match of the day on a packed schedule at Court Philippe Chatrier, which went longer than anticipated thanks to No. 12 seed Diego Schwartzman’s five-hour, five-set victory over No. 3 Dominic Thiem.

No. 2 Nadal will take a 9-1 head-to-head edge against Schwartzman into their meeting in Friday’s semifinals.

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