‘Too nice to win’ Pavlyuchenkova in 1st Slam semi-final

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Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova returns the ball to Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina during their women’s singles quarter-final tennis match on June 8. AFP

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the 52nd attempt with a three-set win over doubles partner Elena Rybakina at the French Open, shrugging off career-long accusations that she was “too nice to win”.

Pavlyuchenkova, the world No32, won 6-7 (2/7), 6-2, 9-7 and will face 85th-ranked Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia for a place in the final.

The 29-year-old Russian had fallen at the quarter-final stage on six occasions at the majors since her debut in 2007.

However, over her career she has recorded 37 wins over top 10 players, the most by any woman never to have made the top 10 herself.

Well-liked by her peers, she seemed doomed to a life in the shadows until June 8 when she just avoided matching Barbora Strycova who needed 53 attempts to make her first Slam semi-final at Wimbledon two years ago.

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

“I mean, obviously I’m respectful. I’ve got education from my parents, and I’m very respectful to people in general. That’s why I turn out to be very nice.

“Unfortunately most of the time people don’t have education on tour to be nice to people and say hello.

“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.”

There’s no doubt that Pavlyuchenkova has had some tough quarter-final missions at the majors.

She faced Francesca Schiavone at Roland-Garros in 2011, just a year after the Italian had claimed the title.

Later that summer, Serena Williams defeated her at the same stage of the US Open.

It would be another five years before Pavlyuchenkova returned to the quarter-finals, this time at Wimbledon where Williams again got the better of her.

Three more last-eight runs were to follow, all at the Australian Open in 2017, 2019 and 2020 with Venus Williams, Danielle Collins and Garbine Muguruza emerging victorious.

However, this year’s French Open has seen the top 10 decimated with Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka making early exits.

Rybakina knocked out Serena Williams in the fourth round while Pavlyuchenkova saw off third seed Aryna Sabalenka in the third round and then former world No1 Victoria Azarenka for good measure.

“I wanted to be in the semi-finals so much before that now I have achieved it, I sort of have a neutral reaction,” she said.

“Of course I’m happy, but I feel like I’m doing my work, I’m doing my job, but there is still matches to go through, still work to be done.”

Rybakina raced into a 4-1 lead in the opening set on June 8.

Pavlyuchenkova broke back in the seventh game before the 1.84m Russian-born Kazakh confidently took the tiebreak.

The Russian levelled the tie courtesy of breaks in the sixth and eighth games of the second set.

In a tense decider, there were four breaks in the first six games before Rybakina cracked in the 16th game, going down tamely on her sixth double fault.

Pavlyuchenkova fired 44 winners past Rybakina, just one fewer than in her victory over Azarenka.

“I believed in my chances. I believed in my game overall. I know I’m a fighter, so I will fight till the end.”