Prior to arriving in Paris this fortnight, Tamara Zidansek had played in the main draw of just eight major tournaments, and had not gone beyond the second round in any of them.
Now, the 23-year-old Slovene is, staggeringly, just one win away from appearing in a Grand Slam final.
How does a player, ranked 85th and with little Grand Slam pedigree to speak of, find herself this deep in a major tournament?
Clues could be found in the clay-court season that preceded Roland Garros; Zidansek came within a set of winning her first career title in the Bogota final, and also qualified for the main draw in Madrid and Rome, to build a 10-4 record on the surface.
She had previously reached another tour-level final on clay at Nuremberg in 2019, the same year she peaked at world No.56.
Zidansek has come through some incredible matches at Roland Garros, ousting Bianca Andreescu 9-7 in the third set, recovering from a 0-6 set to beat Katerina Siniakova in the third round, and surviving a nail-biting quarterfinal against Badosa to triumph 8-6 in the third.
This coolness under pressure might have something to do with the fact she has brought her psychologist to Paris as part of her team.
Zidansek’s upset win over sixth seed Andreescu marked her first ever victory over a top-10 player. “Winning the first round was a big breakthrough for me,” she said. “I got a lot of confidence from that.”
Zidansek was a national junior champion, three times, in snowboarding before choosing to pursue tennis instead because “I was really cold.”
This sporty upbringing is somewhat surprising given her parents – her mother is a judge, her father a schoolteacher – tried to encourage her to play music.
Another sport she loves is basketball, and she admires countrymen Luka Doncic and Goran Dragic, who play in the NBA.
Her social media output shows someone very keen to get out into the world and explore the sights when not competing and practising; there are road-trips via motorbike and Volkswagen beetle, plus barefoot scooter rides to go skiing.
It makes sense, given her Instagram bio reads: “Spontaneous and crazy things? Count me in!!”
Zidansek stands just 168cm tall and during matches keeps her emotions level and contained. Overall, her on-court presence is not especially imposing – until she hits her forehand.
The Slovene generates exceptional power and weight from that wing, yet it remains a safe, secure stroke.
Forehand winners through five matches (just for fun)— Chris Oddo (@TheFanChild) June 9, 2021
(it was fun, right?)
And it has contributed to some notable winner tallies in her Roland Garros matches this year.
She struck 48 winners in her quarterfinal against Badosa, the tall, powerfully-built Spaniard who many observers felt possessed bigger weapons, yet who managed just 31 winners.
“I have always liked my forehand. It's always been my favorite shot. It's developed first in consistency and not just power. It's not enough that you just play one winner now and then. You also have to be consistent and keep going for those winners. That's what we were working on. It's showing now.”
On studying psychology, and employing a psychologist in her team: “I have always been super interested in what people think, how does it (the mind) work. Once you get to this stage, it's all about mental game. It's about believing that you can go out there. Just self-confidence, trying to compose yourself in the tough situations and just keep fighting. That takes a lot of mental preparation and a lot of energy. He's helped me a lot with that.”