Tsvetana Pironkova had never played on a grass court until five years ago but now the Bulgarian giant-killer is just one match away from reaching the Wimbledon final.
Pironkova has defied her lowly position in the world rankings to make it to the last four at the All England Club after a sensational 6-2, 6-3 win over five-time champion Venus Williams in the quarter-finals on Tuesday. That stunning triumph, which followed a victory over 2007 Wimbledon finalist Marion Bartoli in the previous round, provided much-needed proof that it is not impossible to break the Williams sisters' domination of the women's game.
It has also showed that Pironkova is a fast learner as she has just beaten one of the most successful players in Wimbledon history despite growing up in a country without a single grass court. Until she entered Wimbledon qualifying at nearby Roehampton in 2005, Pironkova had never set foot on a grass court.
The 22-year-old's first experiences of the surface were not kind as she crashed out in qualifying. Even though she made it to the main draw at Wimbledon for the next four years, Pironkova couldn't get past the second round in four attempts and she felt the unique demands of grass court tennis were completely beyond her.
"We have no grass-courts in Bulgaria actually. I think it was five years ago here at Wimbledon at the qualifying when I first played on grass," Pironkova said. "Back then, I thought, 'Wow, it's impossible. How can I play on this surface?' "But with every match I play on grass I feel better and better."
Growing up in Plovdiv, Pironkova was taught tennis by her father Kiril, a former cannoe champion, and developed well enough to turn professional. Her progress was slower after that and when she beat Venus in the first round of the 2006 Australian Open it seemed like a once in a lifetime result for the teenager.
Her results since seemed to back that up. She has yet to win a title on the main WTA Tour and hadn't been past the second round of a grand slam. All that has changed in the last 10 days as she came from nowhere to make the last four. A 6-4, 6-4 fourth round win over 11th seed Bartoli raised a few eyebrows but there was no expectation of a shock when she walked onto Court One behind the formidable figure of five-time champion Venus.