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SPORTS | 06-10-2020 15:16

Argentine sensation Podoroska first to qualify for French Open semi-finals

World number 131 Nadia Podoroska had never won a Grand Slam match before this year's French Open began. Now the Argentine sensation is dreaming of glory.

Nadia Podoroska said she still dreams of reaching the very top of the women's game after the Argentine became the first qualifier in the Open era to reach the women's semi-finals at Roland Garros on Tuesday.

World number 131 Podoroska had never won a Grand Slam match before the tournament but stunned third seed Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-4 to continue her incredible French Open run.

The 23-year-old sensation will play Polish teenager Iga Swiatek or Italy's Martina Trevisan as she attempts to become the first qualifier in history to make the final at a major.

"My dream is to be number one. That will never change," said Podoroska, whose only other Grand Slam appearance came at the 2016 US Open.

She is just the third female qualifier to make the last four of a major, after Alexandra Stevenson at Wimbledon in 1999 and Christine Dorey at the 1978 Australian Open.

"I don't want to wake up," added Podoroska, the first Argentine woman to reach a major semi-final since Paola Suarez in Paris in 2004.

"For me it's very special because in all South America we don't have too many tournaments. It's very complicated for all the South American girls playing tennis. 

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

It was the first time Podoroska had even faced a player inside the top 20, having started the year ranked a lowly 255.

"The plan was to take the initiative, not let her dominate the points and try to play as close to the line," said Podoroska after limiting Svitolina to just eight winners.

She has now won 43 matches across all tours in 2020 despite the truncated season and will break into the top 50 after the tournament.

Podoroska is guaranteed 425,250 euros (US$501,740) following her breakout performance here, easily doubling her total career earnings of US$301,547.

Tough moments

It is a reward for her perseverence following a wrist injury a few years ago that forced her off the tour and caused her ranking to plummet.

She admitted financial hardship had recently left her considering her future in the sport.

"The toughest part for me was like two or three years ago. I had too many injuries. I'm dropping my ranking. I was like eight months out of the tour," recalled Podoroska.

"Then I didn't have money to start playing tournaments. It was a very tough moment for me because I also change all my team. 

"I've been working with my old coach for 10 years, then we broke our relationship. I was a little bit, like, I didn't know what to do."

Podoroska has since teamed up with Juan Pablo Guzman, who said "she didn't stop a day working" during the coronavirus lockdown.

"She was working unbelievable, every day doing fitness, trying to do everything," said Guzman, a former ATP professional from Argentina.

Guzman also credited her work with a mental coach for getting her into the right frame of mind against better opponents.

"She's been working, trying to breathe, trying to visualise, trying to be more calm in those situations," he explained.

"This year she was playing really good, but there was some occasions when she was playing higher-ranking players, she was feeling the pressure and trying to do more things than she had to do. 

"In this tournament, she did everything the same in every match. It was, like, a big change for her because she saw she can play like this and keep winning."

Podoroska has defied the odds and is two wins away from emulating Gabriela Sabatini, the 1990 US Open winner and Argentina's only women's Grand Slam singles champion.

"I'm happy that I got to the semi-finals. I will be ready for that match obviously.

– AFP

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