Bulgarian Tennis Player Pironkova is Making History on US Open
Playing in her first tournament in more than three years, Tsvetana Pironkova’s dream run at the 2020 US Open continued on Day 8 as the 32-year-old Bulgarian advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-7, 6-3 win over France’s unseeded Alize Cornet.
A part of the “Mothers on Tour” band of players—led by Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka who have children but have chosen to resume their playing careers—Pironkova showed little rust in beating Cornet, who was playing in her 54th consecutive main draw Grand Slam singles match.
In her post-match on-court interview, Pironkova choked up thinking about her 2-year-old son, Alexander, who she had in the spring of 2018 and has been apart from for the past two weeks. “It gets tougher every day,” she said, pausing. “I know he’s watching me, and he’s proud of me.”
Pironkova’s fourth career Grand Slam quarterfinal will be her first at the US Open. She will be opposed by Williams, who Pironkova has yet to defeat in her career, despite four previous meetings.
The match was the only Round of 16 matchup between two unseeded players and the women were familiar opponents, having met four times in their careers, but not since 2011.
“It’s absolutely unreal,” said Pironkova, who dropped her first set in four matches and used a protected ranking to get into the tournament. “I really can’t believe that I pulled through today. I was just so tired at the end of the match, and I didn’t really believe I had it in me. I just kept fighting and fighting and it finally paid off.
“I didn’t feel any pressure at all coming into the third set. I think I kind of changed my strategy and tried to be more aggressive because I didn’t think I would be able to run for 10 minutes every point. So I just tried to play quicker points, and it worked.”
The last tournament Pironkova played was at Wimbledon in 2017.
Both players traded breaks of serve at the start of the match, with the fast courts favoring Pirinkova, who capitalized on a double fault by the French 30-year-old to get the huge break of serve at 5-4, before serving out the set.
Pironkova started the second set where she left off the first, with a break of serve. She had three break-point opportunities to go up, 3-0, but Cornet battled to get the hold, then proceeded to break Pironkova to even things up at 2-all. Cornet held, scored another break and led, 40-15, to potentially go up 5-2, but Pironkova was able to secure a break of her own to get the set back on serve. Serving for the set at 5-4, Pironkova had a match point opportunity, but Cornet did her best Shelby Rogers impersonation, extending the match after a Pironkova backhand sailed long. In the tiebreaker, Cornet converted on her third set point to even the match at a set apiece, winning it, 7-5.
In the deciding set, Cornet’s ninth double fault led to a break by Pironkova for the 5-4 lead, where she was able to serve it out again. Cornet was playing in her fifth career Grand Slam Round of 16 match, having never advanced to the quarterfinal round.
WHAT IT MEANS: Pironkova will next face No. 3 seed Serena Wiliams, who needed three sets to beat Maria Sakkari of Greece, the No. 15 seed, on Ashe Stadium on Monday. Williams holds a 4-0 head-to-head advantage over Pironkova, including two wins on hard courts, both in straight sets. Pironkova has managed to win a set off Williams during their first two meetings, once on grass in 2011, and once on clay in 2007.
MATCH POINT: Cornet holds the rare distinction of beating Serena Wiliams on three consecutive occasions, all coming in 2014, including coming from a set down on Centre Court at Wimbledon. /US Open
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