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By Richard Pagliaro | Tuesday, October 6, 2020

The dream dangled in sight. Nadia Podoroska remain riveted on the ball to achieve it.

The Argentinean qualifier stepped up and slashed a forehand into the corner sealing a stunning 6-2, 6-4 upset of third-seeded Elina Svitolina then hurled her Head racquet high in the sky in a historic celebration.

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That expression of pure exuberance was about the only time all day Podoroska let her grip slip.

In just her second career Grand Slam appearance, Podoroska made history as the first female qualifier to reach the Roland Garros semifinals sending a seismic shock through the draw ensuring there will be an unseeded player in Saturday's final.

"Well, 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. For me, I think it's good that I'm having these results. Maybe it's going to help for all the young girls."

In this wild Roland Garros that saw four of the Top 10, including world No. 1 defending champion Ashleigh Barty, skip this tournament, qualifiers have stepped up and snatched the spotlight.

The 131st-ranked Podoroska has now won eight straight matches, including three in qualifying, and eclipsed her total career earnings of $300,000 with this wondrous Parisian run.

Though the fifth-ranked Svitolina took the court with more career titles (15) than Podoroska had career Tour-level victories (eight), the world No. 131 outclassed the Strasbourg champion in every phase of the game. Commanding play with her forehand, aggression and some timely drop shots, Podoroska hit 30 winners compared to eight for the three-time quarterfinalist.

Podoroska played dynamic and creative tennis, while Svitolina, succumbing to the pressure as the highest-seeded woman still standing, looked strained and shrank on serve. Podoroska converted eight of 13 break points, including six straight break points at the start.

"I think there was many things that let me down today," Svitolina said. "I think it was not easy to serve from one or another end, and in the end it got a little bit into my head, and I was maybe focusing too much on negative things.

"I think it was really tough for me to find the focus today. I didn't perform as I wish I could, and in the end completely dropped my level. I gave her opportunity to play really good tennis."

It was as if Svitolina was playing not to lose, but that defensive posture contributed to her demise. Svitolina won just six points on serve in the first set, including two of 15 first-serve points and won only one of her eight service games on the day.

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Facing a Top 20 opponent for the first time, the qualifier was understandably skittish as she dropped serve in the opening game.

Settling her nerve, the 23-year-old Podoroska went on the offensive. Podoroska pounded a forehand into the corner scoring her second straight break for a 3-1 lead.

Playing for her first Roland Garros semifinal, the counter-punching Svitolina was content to make balls in the court and paid the price for passive play.

The first Argentinean woman to contest a Grand Slam quarterfinal since Paola Suarez in 2004 competed with the strong self-belief of a woman who knew this match was in her hands.

Dictating play with her forehand and mixing in the occasional drop shot, Podoroska reeled off five straight games and served for the set at 5-1. She narrowly missed a diagonal forehand as Svitolina broke back for 2-5.

That was a temporary reprieve.

Podoroska cleaned the sideline crunching a return winner down the line breaking at love in 35 minutes.

The Podoroska forehand and return were key components to her opening-set dominance: she struck 10 forehand winners, won an eye-popping 13 of 15 points played on Svitolina’s first serve and converted all four break-point chances. Podoroska cracked 17 winners compared to two for Svitolina in the first set.

"I have been in this situation many times, but today unfortunately I was thinking of so many stuff was going on with the wind and everything, and this really let my focus down," Svitolina said. "In the end, I think Nadia was playing really well today to not give me those opportunity to come back fully into the match. I was playing much better in the second set, but still I missed my opportunity and this was, I think this was really because I was not focused 100 percent."

The pair traded love holds to start the second set then Svitolina started to settle in moving the ball side-to-side to promote longer points. Podoroska sprayed a backhand down the line as Svitolina broke for 2-1—her first lead since the opening game.

Podoroska came right back swinging as she shoved Svitolina into the corners with her forehand then dabbed a drop shot winner—her fifth break in as many chances to level.

After a run of six straight breaks, Podoroska held at 15 to go up 5-4. Svitolina, who had dropped serve in seven of her prior eight service games, had to hold to keep her semifinal dreams alive.

Podoroska used her heavy forehand to earn match point but shoveled a return into net. Shaking it off she hammered another forehand in the corner for a second match point.

In the longest exchange of the match, Podoroska pushed Svitolina all over the court but betrayed her cause with a mediocre drop shot as Svitolina won a 27-shot rally to save it.

On her third match point, Podoroska drilled a diagonal forehand into the corner and hurled her racquet high into the sky with joy landing her first final four appearance in a major.

A quarter that began with 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams, two-time major winner Victoria Azarenka, Elise Mertens, Anett Kontaveit and Svitolina as the leading names popping from the draw page now belongs to Podoroska.

The 23-year-old whose first memory of watching tennis was seeing the 2004 French Open final between compatriots Gaston Gaudio and Guillermo Coria will face either Iga Swiatek, who dismissed top-seeded Simona Halep or Italian qualifier Martina Trevisan for a spot in the final.


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