Tsvetana Pironkova is confident she can handle the attention garnered by her shock Wimbledon triumph over Venus Williams despite struggling to cope with the same pressure four years ago. The unseeded Bulgarian's quarter-final victory over the five-time champion was her second grand slam success against Williams and she will meet Vera Zvonareva, the Russia 21st seed, today for a place in Saturday's final.
As a teenager, Pironkova secured a 2-6, 6-0, 9-7 victory over the American in the 2006 Australian Open before losing in straight sets to Laura Granville in the second round. But now aged 22, she feels prepared for the high profile of her semi-final against Zvonareva. "I can say that I'm ready," Pironkova said. "I beat Williams once before, at the Australian Open. There was so much attention then, I was shocked. The next match, I just couldn't focus because of all the attention. Right now, I think I've learned my lesson. I'll just try to focus."
Pironkova appears to have the ability to gain from adversity after recovering from a poor 2009, when she suffered 13 first-round defeats. The run took her down to 100th in the world from a career-high ranking of 40th, and her form was not a great deal better in the lead up to Wimbledon, when she fell in the Eastbourne qualifiers. Pironkova, now ranked 82 in the world, said: "I've been through a lot last year. I had a bad season. I learned a lot from that. I think that is one of the things that helps me right now.
"In a tennis career, a player goes through a lot of stuff. Sometimes you play really well, other times you play really bad. "In my case, the bad playing was for almost a year. That was really, really hard for me. "I just didn't know what to do. I tried a lot of things, but it just didn't happen. "I guess it's because when you lose one match you get a little bit upset. Then going to the next match, you're just not 100 per cent.
Pironkova may have suffered a disappointing 2009 but one of the highlights was a 6-2, 6-0 win over Zvonareva in Moscow. And that defeat is just one of the reasons why the Russian was not getting carried away after learning she would not have to face Williams. "Obviously Venus is always going to be one of the favourite players here at Wimbledon," Zvonareva said. "But if Tsvetana beat her, she deserves to be in the semi-finals. She played great tennis.
"I played her in Moscow last year and I lost to her. I will try to remember that match. I know I was not playing my best tennis over there." Zvonareva yesterday prepared for her semi-final match by consigning Williams to another surprise defeat. The 25-year-old and fellow Russian Elena Vesnina came from a set down to subject the Williams sisters to their first doubles defeat of the year. Serena Williams can quickly bounce back though when she faces Petra Kvitova, the unseeded Czech, today in their semi-final.
Kvitova knocked out Caroline Wozniacki, the third seed, in their last-16 match before saving five match points, going on to beat Kaia Kanepi, another unseeded player, on Tuesday. And Williams was not surprised to learn her semi-final opponent after seeing the 20-year-old in action earlier in the tournament. The defending champion said: "I actually thought she would get through in the early rounds. I'm not surprised that I'm playing her.
"She's really, really good. Early in the tournament, I saw her playing a couple rounds and I was like, 'Wow, she's doing really well.' "She was just hitting the ball so clean." Kvitova lost 6-2, 6-1 to Williams in the Australian Open in January but she is determined to enjoy her spot in the limelight. "I'm not the favourite, so I can just play my game and enjoy it," she said. *PA