Ana Ivanovic lost her opening match to a 78th-ranked Russian qualifier in her final warm-up tournament before the French Open, so she had low expectations when she packed her bags for Paris.
Now she's in the semifinals at Roland Garros for the first time since she won her sole Grand Slam title on the Parisian clay in 2008. She'll face Lucie Safarova, who beat Garbine Muguruza 7-6 (3), 6-3 on Tuesday.
"It's been a long road and hard work," said the seventh-seeded Ivanovic after easing past Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-2 on Court Philippe Chatrier. "I don't know if I should feel very old or very happy."
After her 2008 win, the Serb rose to the No. 1 spot in the rankings, but her success didn't last long. Struggling with her new status, she failed to advance to the quarterfinals in her next 17 Grand Slam tournaments. "There were so many expectations and so many exciting moments at that time in my career, and my life in general," she said. "I feel like people around me were not as experienced. Of course, it was happening for first time for them, too. So I don't feel like I was guided really well."
After many lean seasons, Ivanovic returned to prominence last year, reaching the quarterfinals at the Australian Open and winning four titles as she finished the year in the top five for the first time since 2008. But after starting 2015 on a good note with a runner-up finish in Brisbane, she lost in the first round at the Australian Open after playing with a broken toe.
She also struggled in her first matches at Roland Garros, coming from a set down in her first-round match before rallying past the 103th-ranked Misaki Doi to make it to the third round. "Obviously, I'm just so thrilled,' she said about reaching the semifinal. "You can't take any victory for granted. It's not every day that you reach that. It's been a long time. I know the feeling and the emotions, and also winning on Philippe Chatrier, it means a lot to me."
Against Svitolina, Ivanovic played aggressively throughout and compensated for her many mistakes with 37 winners to extend her record to 7-0 against her 20-year-old opponent. She started with a double-fault but once she found her range she was in complete control. The Serb was the best player on important points, saving three of four break points.
The 13th-seeded Safarova defeated Garbine Muguruza to advance to her second Grand Slam semifinal. Safarova, who upset defending champion Maria Sharapova in the previous round, also made it to the semifinals at Wimbledon last year. "I'm very proud," she said. "It's not easy because you have so many emotions going on from yesterday. I couldn't really fall asleep yesterday evening, and then I wake up so early. So I was like a little tired in the morning. But the will to win and to be in the semifinals was so big that once I stepped on the court, I was just fighting and playing really well."