This autumnal French Open has turned everything upside down: seedings, logic, even logistics. On Tuesday night we saw a record late finish on Court Philippe Chatrier, after an unheralded Argentine named Nadia Podoroska had become the first qualifier ever to reach the semi-finals here. Podoroska – who is 23 – had played only a single match at a grand-slam event before arriving in Paris. When she forced her way through qualifying, and then took out 23rd seed Yulia Putintseva a week ago, even well-informed pundits had no idea who she was. So after her 6-2, 6-4 victory over third seed Elina Svitolina – the first top-20 opponent she had ever faced – Google must have taken a hammering. This rangy, powerful athlete comes from Rosario, a four-hour drive west of Buenos Aires, where she spent lockdown working furiously on her fitness. Since the resumption, her record speaks of a woman transformed, with 17 wins from 20 matches to date. Gabriela Sabatini was Podoroska’s heroine growing up, and also the last Argentine woman to go this deep in a major – although male players such as David Nalbandian and Juan Martín del Potro have fared better. “I have been in contact with Gaby,” said Podoroska, who will play 19-year-old Pole Iga Swiatek in Thursday’s semi-final. “She’s always supporting us, all the Argentinian sports [people]. I’m happy that she’s always with us, no? I don’t want to wake up!” Podoroska outclassed a lamentably passive and unambitious Svitolina, loading up her forehand with lashings of top-spin and then mixing in the odd drop shot. The cold, claggy clay offers very little bounce, making these delicate strokes devastating if you can float them a few inches over the net. The object is to make the ball land as softly as the proverbial butterfly with sore feet. If Podoroska showed great mastery of the drop shot, so did her compatriot Diego Schwartzman, who outlasted the recent US Open champion Dominic Thiem in a five-setter. Against the metronomic Schwartzman, Thiem really needed to go gangbusters for the corners, but he could not summon the energy. So we saw dozens of cagey backhand-to-backhand rallies that resembled Sunday-morning club drills – if played at an astronomically higher level of pace and accuracy. “I’m not sad with my performance here in Roland Garros,” said Thiem afterwards. “It was pretty short time with the long trip home [from New York], jet-lag and everything. Come here, play in pretty brutal conditions. I cannot say it was a bad tournament.”



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