Tsvetana Pironkova’s dream run at the US Open continued on Monday, with the unranked Bulgarian overcoming a nervy end to the second set to defeat Alize Cornet in a tight three-set contest to reach the last eight at her first Grand Slam tournament in over three years.
The Bulgarian, a former world number 31, had beaten the likes of tenth seed Garbine Muguruza and 18th seed Donna Vekic to reach the fourth round in her first tournament in three years. The former Wimbledon semifinalist had returned after giving birth using a protected ranking, under relatively new rules created by the WTA, and overcame missing a match point in the second set to prevail 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-3 in almost three hours.
It was Cornet started brightly, breaking for a 2-0 lead, though was unable to consolidate with the Bulgarian breaking back. Both saved further break points in their next service games and began to look more comfortable when serving, though that all changed at 4-4. Some beautiful groundstrokes from Pironkova saw her break for the second time, and she closed out the set in her next service game, having been an early break down.
After saving points for a double break deficit early on, Cornet eventually found herself 4-2 up in the second set as she looked to force a decider. Pironkova rallied and twice served for the match, holding a match point at 5-4 and then serving for it again at 6-5, though could not close and found herself in a tiebreak. The Bulgarian was evidently nervous and lost several points on serve in the breaker, with the Frenchwoman converting a third set point to force a decider.
Momentum was with Cornet and the Frenchwoman broke early on in the decider, though Pironkova regained composure to break straight back. The Bulgarian began to look less nervous and, after missing a break point opportunity at 3-2, broke at 4-3 to allow herself a third chance to seal for the match. This time, there were no nerves as she held to love to seal a memorable victory.
Life could have been a lot more simple for Pironkova had she been able to close out the encounter in the second set, though she eventually managed to halt the charge of the world number 56 and reach her fourth Grand Slam quarterfinal, having reached this stage at Wimbledon in 2010 and 2011 and the French Open in 2016. This was a huge missed opportunity for Cornet, who is still yet to make the last eight at a slam after 57 appearances.
Pironkova will next play on Wednesday, where she will take on third seed and fellow mum Serena Williams for a place in the last four, with the American beating Maria Sakkari earlier today.