women

Nadia Podoroska to meet Iga Swiatek in French Open women’s semifinals

No, she cannot understand Russian, she is Argentine with a surname passed down from immigrant great-grandparents.

Yes, she is aware she hails from the same city as Lionel Messi.

No, she hasn’t been pinching herself this past fortnight — this last answer coming after her request for a translation of the word “pinching.” A moderator began to explain in Spanish when the 23-year-old laughed and cut him off, grasping the gist of the question.

“No,” she said. “I don’t want to wake up.”

Podoroska’s dreamscape of a French Open continues Thursday, where she will be the just third woman since the Open era began in 1968 to play in the semifinals of any major tournament after coming through qualifying. There, she will face Iga Swiatek, a 19-year-old from Poland, in what has turned out to be a dichotomous women’s tournament at Roland Garros.

In one half of the draw, Podoroska and Swiatek’s semifinal overflows with newness.

In the other, a pair of Grand Slam champions will face off when two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova plays this year’s Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.

Kenin knocked off fellow American Danielle Collins, the former NCAA champion at Virginia, 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 on Wednesday. Kvitova defeated tour veteran Laura Siegemund 6-3, 6-3 earlier in the day.

“As we see on probably every Grand Slam, in the last rounds there is this kind of some surprise in women’s draw,” Kvitova said. “Yeah, here it’s again nothing new.”

Kvitova’s lack of surprise at this decidedly weird French Open speaks to the recent revolving-door nature of women’s tennis, where no one champion has consistently dominated for some time. Naomi Osaka bucked trend when she won the U.S. Open for a second time in September — the past 13 Grand Slam tournaments have produced eight first-time champions.

Even still, Podoroska and Swiatek push that pattern to the extreme.

Swiatek, ranked 54th in the world, has at least been a known — and admired — quantity for more than year. The teenager made her Grand Slam debut at the 2019 Australian Open and has played all six majors since, reaching at least the third round in four.

A recent high school graduate, she is precocious off-court and businesslike on it, with casually powerful groundstrokes that helped her upset top-seeded Simona Halep in the fourth round then dominate Martina Trevisan 6-3, 6-1 in the quarterfinals.

Her fastest backhand clocked 76 miles per hour, tying the hardest-hitting player in the men’s draw this tournament, Dominic Thiem. She hit a forehand at 79 miles per hour, just a tick slower than that of the fastest man, Jannik Sinner. It’s a brutal pace that hasn’t let up through the singles or doubles tournament, where she’s also through to the semifinals with partner Nicole Melichar.

She likes to listen to the Guns N’ Roses stalwart “Welcome to the Jungle” before walking out on court.

“I was pretty nervous,” Swiatek said after her quarterfinal win. “I knew that my opponent also can be nervous because it was her first match on [the main court at Roland Garros] Philippe Chatrier. I remember last year when I played my first match on Philippe Chatrier. It was kind of horrible.”

In Podoroska, Switaek another opponent even greener than herself.

The 131st-ranked Argentine is playing just the second Grand Slam main draw of her career and knocked off third-seed Elina Svitolina in a 6-2, 6-4 quarterfinal victory Tuesday.

It was Podoroska’s first singles match against a top 20 player, but she looked calm and in control on court, dictating points, returning Svitolina’s serve with fury and flaunting a well-practiced drop shot. She became the first Argentine woman since Paola Suarez in 2004 to reach the semifinals at the French Open in what was a banner day for Argentine tennis.

Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman is also through to the semifinals, where he will play Rafael Nadal on Friday.

“For me it’s very special because in all South America we don’t have too many tournaments,” Podoroska said. “It’s very complicated for all the South American girls playing tennis.”

Podoroska once considered quitting tennis after a series of injuries waylaid her career and she lacked the funding to travel to events. But she continued on, toiling at the sport’s lower levels, and amassed 43 wins this year including matches in qualifying tournaments — matches Podoroska said only helped her game in during an odd, fragmented season.

Her stay in Paris is now nearing its three-week mark, by far the longest she’s ever spent at a single tournament. It’s given fans and reporters alike plenty of time to learn her story.

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