MATCH POINT: How Sakkari knocked out defending champion Swiatek

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With a sixth consecutive first-time Grand Slam women's champion set to be crowned in Paris, which two players will move within a step of achieving their ultimate dream?

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova [31] vs. Tamara Zidansek

We’ve seen some surprising semifinals on the women’s side at Roland Garros, but this year’s may take the cake. None of the four women playing in them have gone this far at any Grand Slam before, and none are seeded in the Top 16—two of them aren’t seeded at all. Thursday’s opener will feature a first-time match-up between Pavlyuchenkova, a 29-year-old Russian and former junior No. 1 who many of us once expected to be on stages like this all the time, and Zidansek, a 23-year-old from Slovenia ranked 85th who virtually no one expected to still be playing in Paris. But they’ve earned their places: Each has survived three three-setters so far, and each had to go into overtime to win her quarterfinal: Zidansek beat Paula Badosa 8-6 in the third; Pavlyuchenkova beat Elena Rybakina 9-7 in the third.

How do you predict how a match will go between two players who have never played a major semifinal, and have never played each other? All you can do is guess. Pavlyuchenkova is the more powerful and erratic player, while Zidansek, at least at this tournament, has been the more patient competitor, and has kept her cool in close matches against two bigger hitters, Badosa and Bianca Andreescu. That should serve her well in this brighter spotlight. Winner: Zidansek

For the sixth consecutive year at Roland Garros, a first-time women's major champion will be crowned.

For the sixth consecutive year at Roland Garros, a first-time women's major champion will be crowned.

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Maria Sakkari [17] vs. Barbora Krejcikova

Unlike in the first semifinal, there’s a little bit of history between Sakkari and Krejcikova: They’ve played once at the WTA level, earlier this year in Dubai, and Krejcikova won in two sets. It was a victory that sent the Czech all the way to the final and alerted some of us to how talented at singles this doubles specialist can be.

How will it go when they meet on a different surface, in a bigger tournament, and in a much later round? Sakkari is the higher-ranked player, and the more reliable one; she does have a history of getting tight closing out matches, but she competes hard and plays aggressively at all times. Krejcikova is more of a wild card. When she’s on—as she was against Coco Gauff on Wednesday—she’s a shotmaker extraordinaire, capable of painting the lines and finding the corners with her forehand or backhand. Sakkari, who just knocked out the defending champion, Iga Swiatek, may be a little more prepared for this moment. But I’ll back Krejcikova to keep her high-risk mojo going for another day. Winner: Krejcikova