It is rare for a first-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist to knock out a top five player. It’s rarer still for a first-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist, just 17 years old, to do that. And for both these results to happen on the same day is perhaps unimaginable. But that’s exactly what French Open fans got to witness on Wednesday as Jasmine Paolini and Mirra Andreeva sent shockwaves across the tennis world.

Italy’s Jasmine Paolini celebrates after a point as she plays against Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina (AFP)

Paolini, 28, whose previous best Grand Slam run was reaching the 2024 Australian Open fourth round, got the better of fourth seed and 2022 Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 on Court Philippe-Chatrier, while teenager Andreeva followed up with a 6-7(5), 6-4, 6-4 win over second seed and two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka.

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Italian Paolini and Russian Andreeva are at vastly different stages of their careers. But on Wednesday, there was a similar blend of composure and tenacity in their game against two of the favourites at Roland Garros this year.

They made it the day of the underdog and set up the most unexpected semi-final meeting.

It isn’t every day that you see a player announce her arrival 13 years after turning pro. But the years of hard work Paolini had put in was visible in the skill and calmness with which she played to win over the Parisian crowd. Having won her first WTA Tour match in 2018, it wasn’t until the Australian Open this year that Paolini got past the second round at a Grand Slam.

After spending years in the shadows, where she claimed just one title (Portoroz, 2021), she won the WTA 1000 Dubai Open in February to enter the top 20. She followed that up with the women’s doubles title in Rome and has carried forward that form to Roland Garros.

Against Rybakina, she began the match with immense confidence and closed it out like a top professional. The first set saw the 12th seed lose just two points on serve and make one unforced error. She squandered an opportunity to win in straight sets but regrouped to get the job done. Rybakina was definitely not at her best, making a staggering 48 unforced errors. Paolini deserved all the credit for rattling her opponent from the start. She made up for her diminutive stature (5’4”) with incredible movement and power from the back of the court.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling. I was just trying to stay there every point, to forget what happened in the second set,” Paolini said on court. “Such things happen in tennis, it’s normal. I just accepted that and tried to fight again. My first time playing on this beautiful court… it was a privilege. Thank you for the support.”

Andreeva had announced herself by reaching the Wimbledon fourth round last year. She backed that up by reaching the Australian Open Round of 16 in January, and is chasing her first title. On Wednesday, she became the youngest Grand Slam semi-finalist since Martina Hingis in 1997, also at Roland Garros.

Against Sabalenka, Andreeva was expected to put up a fight, but she surpassed expectations with a sensational performance.

The Russian teen was a break up in the opening set but couldn’t hold on after a few nervous errors. Sabalenka seemed to be struggling physically from the start and called for the trainer many times, but it seemed she would close out the match from 4-4 in the second set. But Andreeva showed why she’s rated by many as the next big thing with a clinical performance from there. She remained unperturbed when Sabalenka threatened to make a comeback in the decider, closing out the win in two hours and 29 minutes.

“Honestly, I was really nervous before the match,” she said on court. “I knew she would have an advantage with the crowd, but I was surprised because you guys even cheered for me. So, thank you for that. I kind of see the game and play whatever I want. I don’t really have a plan. If I see an open space, I try to hit it there. If I see my opponent go one way, I try to hit it behind her.”

Mats Wilander, the former Swedish great doing the courtside interview, asked about her sharp tactics. Andreeva, with coach Conchita Martinez smiling in the stands, joked: “My coach and I had a plan, but I didn’t really remember it. So, yeah, I just try to play each point as it comes.”

Bopanna-Ebden advance

Rohan Bopanna and his Australian partner Matthew Ebden beat 10th seeds Sander Gille and Joran Vliegen of Belgium 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-1 to reach the men’s doubles semi-finals. The second seeds, who won this year’s Australian Open, were under pressure after losing the second set but cruised through the third. They will face Italian 11th seeds Simone Bolelli and Andrea Vavassori next.

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