Podoroska becomes first female qualifier into French Open semifinals

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. (Michel Euler/AP)

PARIS -- After becoming the first qualifier to reach the women's semifinals at Roland Garros in the Open era, Nadia Podoroska threw her racket in the air, tilted her head back and pumped both fists.

Podoroska had just knocked out Elena Svitolina, the French Open's third seed who, on Tuesday, was stopped from reaching a third semifinal in her past four Grand Slam tournaments.

The Argentine, who is ranked 131st and never had won a main draw Grand Slam match before last week, could hardly believe she won 6-2, 6-4 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.

And to think: 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.

She was off the tour for eight months; her ranking dropped; she didn't have enough money to travel to tournaments; 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, by far, the best results of her career.

Svitolina, though, blamed herself for this outcome.

"Lots of things were not going my way," Svitolina said. "I was not 100% mentally on it today, and that was really disappointing."

Serving at 5-4 down, Svitolina saved two match points, the second with an audacious slice at the net to end a 27-shot rally.

But on the third match point, Podoroska hit a crisp forehand winner and then chucked her racket toward the blue sky.

In the semifinals, she could face another qualifier in Martina Trevisan of Italy, who also had not won a main draw Grand Slam match before this tournament. Trevisan was scheduled to face unseeded 19-year-old Iga Swiatek later Tuesday.

On a day of firsts, Danielle Collins reached the quarterfinals of the French Open for the first time by beating 30th-seeded Ons Jabeur 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

The unseeded American also could scarcely take it in when she won on her first match point.

When Jabeur's forehand from the back of the court sank into the net, Collins' loud scream of joy pierced the air. She fell onto her back with her hands over her face and stretched out her arms on the clay.

Collins played the U.S. Open without a coach last month, but for Roland Garros -- where she had never been beyond the second round in two previous appearances -- she reached out to Nicolas Almagro. The Spaniard was once ranked No. 9, and won all of his 13 career titles on outdoor clay.

"Nico and I started working with each other last week. I didn't have a coach at the U.S. Open, so I tried to find somebody right away," Collins said on court after her win. "Luckily I found somebody with an incredible record, who was a top 10 player."

With Collins through, there will definitely be an American player in the semifinals: She she next faces fourth-seeded Sofia Kenin, the Australian Open champion.

Jabeur made Collins work harder than she might have expected after racing to 3-0 lead in the second set.

The powerful Tunisian then won the next five games, unsettling Collins with her ability to change directions and using her drop shot to good effect.

"I kind of felt like I was in the driver's seat up until 6-4, 3-0. But she's tricky and she served really well, she hit some drop shots on shots I wasn't really expecting," Collins said. "It broke my rhythm and I lost my way there a little bit. I just need to try to stay positive."

After they both dropped their first two service games of the last set to make it 2-2, Collins rallied back from love-40 down on her serve to hold, then broke Jabeur for a 4-2 lead.

Not to be outdone, Jabeur -- with her uncanny ability to wrongfoot Collins -- broke back and a love hold made it 4-4.

After holding comfortably this time, Collins composed herself and won on her first match point.

There were two men's quarterfinals scheduled on Chatrier: Third-seeded Dominic Thiem against No. 12 Diego Schwartzman, and 12-time champion Rafael Nadal against unseeded 19-year-old Jannik Sinner.

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