Pavlyuchenkova v Zidansek: Where the match can be won

Join us on this tactical deep dive into Thursday's first women's semi-final

 - Chris Oddo

Russia’s Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will battle Slovenia’s Tamara Zidansek for a spot on Saturday’s Roland-Garros women’s singles final. Both players have never been this far before at a major, how will they react? 

Here is a tactical breakdown of the keys areas where the match can be won.

Zidansek holding serve

The Slovenian has made the most of her opportunities in Paris, battling through a trio of three-set matches to reach her maiden Grand Slam semi-final.

She has had to win creatively, with an all-court game, because her serve has been the least reliable of the four players remaining in the draw. 

The 23-year-old was broken seven times in her first-round win over Bianca Andreescu, and another seven times in her quarter-final victory over Paula Badosa. In total, Zidansek has been broken 21 times in 70 service games through five rounds, while winning just 64 per cent of her first-serve points. 

It’s unlikely that Zidansek will be perfect on serve against Pavlyuchenkova, who has been breaking in nearly half of her return games (29 breaks in 61 return games), but she’ll have to find ways to stabilise sets on her serve, whenever possible. 

The Tamara forehand

With 109 forehand winners coming off her racquet in her first five rounds, Zidansek has created a clear blueprint for success in Paris. When in doubt, be courageous - within reason.

The Slovenian, who is the first ever Grand Slam women's semi-finalist from her country, cracked a whopping 34 forehand winners in her 7-5, 4-6, 8-6 victory over Badosa in the quarter-finals, and she’ll need to be ruthless off of that wing to keep Pavlyuchenkova from owning the centre of the court on Thursday. 

According to Zidansek’s coach, Marjan Cuk, the forehand isn’t the only trick the Slovenian has up her sleeve. 

“Everyone is talking about her forehand. I agree, this is a really big weapon,” he said on Wednesday. “But my opinion as a coach is that she has five pistols always, so she can play forehand, we improved a lot backhand, she can do a drop shot, sometime she go to the net. Variety of the serve is also quite much better than it was.”

Nevertheless, it will be the most important shot on the court on Thursday.

Tamara Zidansek, Roland Garros 2021, quarter-final© Julien Crosnier/FFT

Taking control of rallies early on

During her run to the semi-finals, Pavlyuchenkova has faced several hard servers, such as Aryna Sabalenka and Elena Rybakina.

Zidansek relies on her variety and her court sense much more than her power, so Pavlyuchenkova will have to adapt, remain consistent and use her first serve and return to earn the advantage in rallies. 

She may have to display a tad more shot tolerance to consistently win points against the Slovenian, who used to be a youth snowboarder and is an athletic mover on the clay.

Pavlyuchenkova’s ticket to the last four has been punched with steady, stingy play - she has hit 155 winners against 118 unforced errors, which is much cleaner than Zidansek’s stat line of 154 winners against 160 unforced errors. 

The Russian says her coach and brother, Aleksandr Pavlyuchenkov, is helping her approach to point-building in Paris. 

“We were talking a bit, he teaches me how to play smarter, to read the game," Pavlyuchenkova said on Tuesday.

To have success on Thursday, the Russian will need to continue that positive trend in her game.