London: Tsvetana Pironkova had never played
on a grass court until five years ago but now the Bulgarian
giant-killer is just one match away from reaching the
Pironkova has defied her lowly position in the world
rankings to make it to the last four at the All England Club
after a sensational 6-2, 6-3 win over five-time champion Venus
Williams in the quarter-finals on Tuesday.
That stunning triumph, which followed a victory over 2007
Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli in the previous round,
provided much-needed proof that it is not impossible to break
the Williams sisters` domination of the women`s game.
It is also showed that Pironkova is a fast learner as she
has just beaten one of the most successful players in
Wimbledon history despite growing up in a country without a
single grass court.
Until she entered Wimbledon qualifying at nearby
Roehampton in 2005, Pironkova had never set foot on a grass
The 22-year-old`s first experiences of the surface were
not kind as she crashed out in qualifying.
Even though she made it to the main draw at Wimbledon for
the next four years, Pironkova couldn`t get past the second
round in four attempts and she felt the unique demands of
grass court tennis were completely beyond her.
"We have no grass-courts in Bulgaria actually. I think it
was five years ago here at Wimbledon at the qualifying when I
first played on grass," Pironkova said.
"Back then, I thought, `Wow, it`s impossible. How can I
play on this surface?` "But with every match I play on grass I
feel better and better."
Growing up in Plovdiv, Pironkova was taught tennis by her
father Kiril, a former cannoe champion, and developed well
enough to turn professional.
Her progress was slower after that and when she beat
Venus in the first round of the 2006 Australian Open it seemed
like a once in a lifetime result for the teenager.
Her results since seemed to back that up. She has yet to
win a title on the main WTA Tour and hadn`t been past the
second round of a grand slam.
All that has changed in the last 10 days as she came from
nowhere to make the last four.
A 6-4, 6-4 fourth round win over 11th seed Bartoli raised
a few eyebrows but there was no expectation of a shock when
she walked onto Court One behind the formidable figure of
five-time champion Venus.
To beat a player who had appeared in eight of the last 10
Wimbledon finals and to do it at the grand slam she always
wanted to succeed at, left Pironkova shaking her head in
"I still cannot believe that I reached the semi-finals.
This is truly like a dream to me," she said.
"Wimbledon has always been a religion to me. It`s the
oldest tournament and growing up, every player is looking at
Wimbledon. They say, `One day I want to play there.` That`s
like a dream."
With her dreams fulfiled, it would hardly be surprising
if Pironkova suffered a hangover in the semi-final.
But she is determined to learn from the aftermath of her
win over Venus in 2006 when she lost in the next round.
"When I beat Williams at the Australian Open, there was
so much attention. I was shocked," she said.
"In the next match, I just couldn`t focus because of all
the attention. Right now I think I`ve learned my lesson. I`ll
just try to focus."
While Pironkova tries to keep her cool, Zvonareva, who
defeated Kim Clijsters 3-6, 6-4, 6-2, can`t wait for her shot
at reaching a first Grand Slam final.
The 25-year-old, who was beaten in the Australian Open
semi-finals in 2009, has often been let down by her fragile
temperament but she believes it is improving with age.
"I think it comes with experience," she said. "You`re
more mature. You know it is important just to forget what was
before and try to concentrate on the next point.”
"Right now I have learned a lot from the past, and I can
do it much better now."