French Open: Sakkari beats defending champion Swiatek, makes first Grand Slam semifinal

Maria Sakkari has reached her first Grand Slam semifinal at Roland Garros.

Maria Sakkari

Maria Sakkari of Greece reacts during her French Open quarterfinal game against Poland's Iga Swiątek in Paris.   -  AP

The curse of French Open defending champions continued as Iga Swiatek was knocked out 6-4, 6-4 by Greek Maria Sakkari in the French Open quarterfinals, leaving the women's draw wide open on Wednesday.

The 20-year-old Pole, who took an off-court medical timeout early in the second set, was overwhelmed by Sakkari's power and pace on court Philippe Chatrier with almost 5,000 spectators now allowed to attend.

World number nine Swiatek, bidding to become the first woman to retain her title since Justine Henin in 2007, got off to a confident start but lacked her usual poise against Sakkari, who dictated most of the points and was greatly helped by her opponent's unforced errors.

Sakkari, the world number 18, will take on Czech Barbora Krejcikova for a place in Saturday's final.

Although she is the highest-ranked player left in the draw, 25-year-old Sakkari does not believe she is now the favourite for the title.

"The rest of the girls are playing extremely well. I think the draw has changed so much so it doesn't really matter who was the highest ranked in this tournament," she said.

"We're four very good players. I don't think the ranking matters, to be honest."

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Russian 31st seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (29) faces unseeded Slovenian Tamara Zidansek (23) in the other semifinal.

"I wouldn't have done it without my team, their support. It's still a long way to go but we made a huge step today," Sakkari said on court after her compatriot Stefanos Tsitsipas reached the last four in the men's draw on Tuesday.

"I just really enjoyed today. Before the start of the match I spoke to myself and said 'It's an important match but just enjoy because this is one of the best stadiums in the world'."

Swiatek benefited from her opponent's early nerves to go 2-0 up, but she was not exactly settled herself, allowing Sakkari to break back right away.

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Swiatek then found herself under constant pressure, and Sakkari broke back before stealing her serve again for 5-4 after forcing the Pole to misfire.

The defending champion struggled to cope with Sakkari's brutal accelerations from the baseline and she showed her frustration on several occasions.

The Greek saved a break point in the 10th game before sealing the set with a backhand winner to end Swiatek's 22-set winning streak in Paris.

It's time to chill, says mentally drained Swiatek

Swiatek has had an eventful eight months and it's now time for the Pole "to chill". Having burst into the limelight when she lifted the Suzanne Lenglen Cup as a teenager without dropping a set last October, Swiatek is feeling the strain of playing professional tennis.

"When I was on court, I felt it totally differently. As I said, I couldn't even sleep well yesterday. I slept like few hours," said Swiatek, seeded eighth at Roland Garros.

"I think I was feeling everything twice as much as I should. It was hard to rationally just see what's going on."

Her next big goal will be the Olympics in Tokyo, and she does not have many hopes for the grasscourt season, which culminates at Wimbledon from June 28-July 11.

"I don't know if I even remember how to play on grass, so we're going to see how that's going to go. I'm not putting, like, any expectations or any pressure on myself because I really just want to learn how to play on it," she said

"For sure we're going to prepare more for Olympics, and my next peak is probably going to be the Olympics."

Mental health has been at the centre of debates in tennis since Japan's Naomi Osaka withdrew from the French Open after the first round, revealing she had been suffering from depression for almost three years.

"I had a pretty intense season. I played many of the tournaments, more than in my previous seasons. I'm happy with the results that I have, but also I'm constantly at work," Swiatek explained.

"For sure we're going to try to chill down, chill out a little bit, cool down, also find some perspective. Basically when I close my eyes, I only see tennis courts and balls, so it's pretty tiring."

Swiatek took a comfort break but her problems did not go away as she dropped serve in the first game of the second set with another forehand error.

Sakkari followed on serve to lead 2-0 and Swiatek called the trainer on court with an apparent leg problem before taking an off-court medical time out.

She returned with a strap on her right thigh and held serve, but Sakkari stayed solid on her own service games.

Serving for the match at 5-4 Sakkari went 40-0 ahead and after Swiatek saved two match points, she bowed on the third when her forehand sailed wide.

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