Tennis: Sabalenka, Rybakina crash out on day of upsets at French Open

PARIS, FRANCE - JUNE 05: Mirra Andreeva celebrates a point against Aryna Sabalenka during the Women's Singles Quarter Final match on Day 11 at Roland Garros on June 05, 2024 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The script was ripped up at the French Open on Thursday (NZ time), as ailing second seed Aryna Sabalenka and off-colour fourth seed Elena Rybakina were sent tumbling out in the quarter-finals before Alexander Zverev restored some normality.

Hampered by illness throughout her match, Sabalenka crashed to a 6-7(5) 6-4 6-4 defeat to Russian teenager Mirra Andreeva as the Australian Open champion's 11-match Grand Slam winning streak ground to a halt on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The 26-year-old barely looked like she could continue but soldiered on as fans on the main showcourt got behind her.

Andreeva took full advantage and reached her maiden major semi-final, becoming the youngest in the last four at a Grand Slam since Martina Hingis in 1997 and setting up a clash with Rybakina's conqueror Jasmine Paolini. 

Andreeva's refreshingly fearless strokeplay has caught the eye at Roland Garros and she paid tribute to her coach Conchita Martinez, although she admitted that it was hard to keep track of all her instructions.

"I would say that I always play the way I want to play. We have a plan with my coach for the match, but afterwards I forget everything," Andreeva told reporters.

"When I play a match, I don't have any thoughts in my head. So maybe I would say that my strength could be that I just play how I want to play and I do whatever I want to do. Maybe this helps me when I play."

Aryna Sabalenka struggled through her quarter-final.
Aryna Sabalenka struggled through her quarter-final. Photo credit: Getty Images

She admitted to feeling some nerves but her confidence only grew as the match wore on.

"In the beginning I didn't really believe it, because she's very experienced. She has two Grand Slams in her pocket. She's a great player, very aggressive," Andreeva said. 

"So, it was like, 'we'll see what will happen, but I'm not sure if I can do it, but I will just try to enjoy the atmosphere and try to play the best way I can'."

Sabalenka said she had been struggling with a stomach bug for a few days, which ended her bid to become the first woman since Serena Williams in 2015 to win the Australian Open and Roland Garros in the same season.

"I had a difficult time out there physically. I did my best to try and manage it," Sabalenka said.

"I always do my best to fight to the end. I had to keep trying and hope I could find a way and feel a bit better." 

The precocious Andreeva's opponent in the next round could have been Rybakina but the Russian-born Kazakh failed to find a way past Italy's Paolini, who battled hard to secure a 6-2 4-6 6-4 win.

"I started to play better with more consistency last year and in the middle July," Dubai champion Paolini said. "Match by match I felt more convinced that I can play at the higher level. But it was a process. It's not like I switch on something.

"Now, I step on court and I say to myself I have a chance to win the match. Before, when I was playing against top players, I was like 'okay, I need a miracle to win this match'.

"So I was already losing the match before even playing."

Paolini said she expected a big challenge against Andreeva.

"I played against her in Madrid, and she's really great player, I think. She's so young but she's so, so good mentally, and she can defend very well. She can serve well," she added. 

"It's going to be a tough match, but we're in the semi-final so there is no chance to get easy matches."

Paolini's compatriot Jannik Sinner had ensured that he would become the world number one for the first time next Monday after defending champion Novak Djokovic pulled out of the tournament with a knee injury.

Reports in the French and Serbian media said the 37-year-old Djokovic had surgery in Paris but there was no confirmation from the player, whose hopes of playing in Wimbledon and at the Paris Olympics could be affected by the injury.

With Djokovic's withdrawal sending seventh seed Casper Ruud through to the semi-finals, fourth-seed Zverev joined him with a 6-4 7-6(5) 6-4 win over 11th seed Alex de Minaur. 

Slow court conditions took some of the bite out of Zverev's powerful serve, forcing the towering German to win extended rallies against his speedy opponent.

A key moment came in the second set tiebreak when Zverev fell behind 4-0 and the crowd rallied around the Australian.

"I stayed calm," Zverev said.

"I knew that the conditions today are extremely difficult to hit winners. I knew that it has to go the long way sometimes, and that's what I did in the tiebreak. 

"The serve today didn't play such a big role as it did maybe the other days just because it was very, very slow."

Zverev, 27, will be making his fourth consecutive semi-final appearance at the event as he looks to capture his first Grand Slam title.