The thunderstorm expected to rip through Roland Garros on day 13 will be forgotten soon enough if Amanda Anisimova and Marketa Vondrousova become the first teenage finalists in a major championship since 17-year-old Serena Williams beat 18-year-old Martina Hingis at the US Open 20 years ago.
That possibility describes a cycle of change that Williams had strangled with her brilliance in compiling 23 majors, a run that has stalled since the 37-year-old grande dame of tennis became a mother in September 2017. She has not won a tournament since and her game has an air of anxiety about it.
Her premature departure here – a surprise more than a shock – at the hands of another young prodigy, 20-year-old Sofia Kenin, played a major part in reshaping the draw, which now pits Anisimova against the doughty and clever Australian Ashleigh Barty in one of the semi-finals on Friday and Vondrousova against Johanna Konta in the other.
Their task will demand more resilience of them if the stormy weather is as bad as forecast but they are at least in the same lifeboat. All have played some brilliant tennis to get this far. On Thursday under clear skies, the American Anisimova stunned then outlasted the defending champion, Simona Halep, 6-2, 6-4, to become, at 17, the youngest semi-finalist here since Nicole Vaidisova 13 years ago.
Barty was equally impressive, if not as obviously dominant, in beating the 14th seed, Madison Keys, 6-3, 7-5. She said: “That’s probably close to my best match over the last month on clay – for all of one little blemish trying to serve out the match the first time. It was a really clean match. I felt like I was in control. I was able to put the balls in difficult positions for Maddie.”
The glowing testimonies for all the semi-finalists filled every microphone and rippled through every corridor. Pat Cash, a London resident but always an Australian, predicted, tongue in cheek, “an all-Australian final” between Barty and Konta, who was born in Sydney and has called Eastbourne home since she was 14.
Chris Evert, who won this title seven times and is now a sage voice on Eurosport, said: “Ash Barty has got more variety than any of the players. She can disrupt anyone’s rhythm. She will need that against Anisimova because she will hit you off the court. She showed power and composure and touch today.
“Jo’s had two days since her remarkable win over Sloane. Can she keep that momentum up? That is the question. I think she can, I think she will have hunger and inspiration, but she cannot get down on herself if she doesn’t play up to that level.”
She added: “We’ve always said women’s tennis is unpredictable, since Serena hasn’t been dominating the last two or three years. But Amanda played unbelievable today. I was stunned by Jo Konta on Tuesday. I was stunned again today by Amanda.”
Evert gave the impression that her compatriot - born in New Jersey and raised in Miami, the American daughter of Russian emigrants – was the one to watch. “Look at this young lady, 17 years old, a star is being born right now. Her idol is Maria Sharapova. She plays like Maria Sharapova. Halep had windows of opportunity but just didn’t take advantage of them on the big points.”
Anisimova does not lack for self-belief. A former girls finalist here in 2016, and a winner at Flushing Meadows in 2017, she told the New York Times two years ago, “I definitely want to become No1 in the world and win every grand slam One of each would be like super awesome. I hope to do that one day.”
Konta was glad of an extra day off because of the rearranged timetable in the wake of Wednesday’s washout. She has rarely looked as confident and relaxed before a big match. If she is to match the exact deeds of Sue Barker – the last British winner of the French Open, 43 years ago, as well as reaching semi-finals at Wimbledon and Melbourne, and the fourth round of the US Open – she will need all her composure against Vondrousova, a willowy 19-year-old with easy power on both wings and a keen tennis brain.
But Konta is determined to stay in the zone she has occupied since her first match. “I definitely accept my role as an entertainer,” she said.
“People buy tickets to watch a show, to watch a match. I definitely do what I can from my side to make it entertaining, to bring my best performance. I always do that when I step out on court. That’s my role as an entertainer. I am human as well, so that doesn’t always happen – and that’s just the way it is.”