Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova, one of three surprising semifinalists at Wimbledon, has spent much of her life on a tennis court, but her early memories of grass are not fond ones.
Five years ago, in her first attempt to reach the main draw here, Pironkova lost in the last round of qualifying. “I thought, ‘It’s impossible. How can I play on this surface?’ ” said Pironkova, whose home country does not have a single grass court.
Today, Pironkova will play for a berth in the Wimbledon final against Russian Vera Zvonareva, who, like the unseeded Petra Kvitova, pulled off an upset in the quarterfinals on Tuesday.
Pironkova advanced with her second successive victory over Venus Williams, 6-2, 6-3.
Ranked 82nd in the world, the 22-year-old from Plovdiv had never advanced beyond the second round of a Grand Slam event in 18 previous attempts.
“I think no one expected me to play a semifinal in Wimbledon and to beat Venus Williams like that,” Pironkova said. “I really just wanted to play a good game, to maybe win one or two rounds.”
Bulgaria does not boast a rich tennis tradition, although its most famous players, the Maleeva sisters — Manuela, Katerina and Magdalena — all enjoyed career-high rankings in the top 10. Pironkova is the only current Bulgarian player in the top 100.
“We don’t have academies,” Pironkova said. “We have tennis clubs where kids come and play. If the kid is good, the coaches start paying a attention to him. ”
Pironkova was introduced to the sport by her father, Kiril Enchev, who is also her coach.
As a child, Pironkova dreamed of playing at the All England Club. “Wimbledon has always been like a religion to me,” she said.
She lost in the first round in each of the previous three years. “I think [it’s better now] because I’ve played more on grass. Every year I have at least two tournaments. Right now I guess I was ready.”