Germany's Alexander Zverev plays a backhand return to Argentina's Tomas Martin Etcheverry during their men's singles quarter-final match on Wednesday. Image Credit: AFP

Paris: Alexander Zverev made an emotional return to the French Open semi-finals on Wednesday, one year after a horror ankle injury sent his career into a tailspin, as Iga Swiatek set up a last-four clash with Brazilian trailblazer Beatriz Haddad Maia.

German world No 27 Zverev claimed a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 win over Tomas Martin Etcheverry of Argentina and will face either Casper Ruud, the 2022 runner-up, or Holger Rune for a place in Sunday’s final.

It will be Zverev’s sixth Grand Slam semi-final and will be played on the same Philippe Chatrier Court where he suffered torn ankle ligaments against Rafael Nadal 12 months ago.

Ranked at three in the world at the time, the sobbing, screaming Zverev was taken off court in a wheelchair and was out of action until January this year.

Difficult year

“That was the most difficult year of my life,” said 26-year-old Zverev. “I love playing tennis and the sport and competition were taken away from me.

“I am so happy to be back on this stage and happy to be able to have another chance to play for a place in the final.”

On Wednesday, Olympic champion and 2020 US Open runner-up Zverev broke in the seventh game of the first set and saved two break points in the eighth before going on to pocket the opener.

Etcheverry, ranked 49 and in the quarter-final at the majors for the first time, levelled the tie and was quickly 2-0 up in the third set.

But Zverev reeled off five games in a row before clinching the third set and then grabbed the key break to edge ahead 4-3 in the fourth.

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Poland's Iga Swiatek celebrates after winning her quarter-final match against Coco Gauff of the US. Image Credit: AP

Seven out of seven

World No 1 and defending champion Swiatek, chasing a third title at Roland Garros, brushed aside 19-year-old Coco Gauff 6-4, 6-2 in a rematch of last year’s final.

Swiatek improved her record in Paris to 26-2 after beating the American for the seventh time in as many meetings.

The 22-year-old from Poland is chasing a third French Open crown and attempting to become the first woman to successfully defend the title in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007.

“It wasn’t easy, the first set was really tight. Coco was really using the conditions, so I was happy to be able to work on it and win this match,” said Swiatek, who has yet to drop a set at the tournament.

On losing seven out of seven to the Pole, Gauff admitted: “It sucks”.

Haddad Maia, the world No 14, defeated seventh-ranked Ons Jabeur 3-6, 7-6 (7/5), 6-1 to become the first Brazilian woman to reach a Grand Slam semi-final since seven-time major winner Maria Bueno at the 1968 US Open.

‘Believe in my body’

“Ons is not easy to play against, you have to be patient but I believed in my body and tried to keep my rhythm,” said Haddad Maia.

Haddad Maia will go into Thursday’s semi-final buoyed by beating Swiatek in their only previous meeting on the hard courts of Toronto last year.

Jabeur, the runner-up at Wimbledon and the US Open in 2022, was playing in her first quarter-final at Roland Garros while Haddad Maia had never got past the second round of a Grand Slam before this French Open.

The Brazilian had saved a match point in the third round against Ekaterina Alexandrova and then defeated Sara Sorribes Tormo in a three-hour 51-minute marathon, the third longest women’s match ever played at the tournament.

Retain top ranking

Thursday’s other semi-final will see Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka tackle unseeded Karolina Muchova of the Czech Republic.

If Sabalenka makes the final, Swiatek would have to win the title to retain her top ranking.

Twelve months ago, Ruud defeated Rune in a four-set quarter-final before the pair continued their battle in the locker room.

Rune, then just a precocious 19-year-old, accused his Norwegian rival of a “lack of respect”. Ruud, who went on to finish runner-up to Rafael Nadal, responded by advising his Danish rival to “grow up”.

Less drama

Fourth-ranked Ruud holds a 4-1 career edge over the world number six but Rune won their most recent clash on clay in the Rome semi-finals.

“Obviously there was drama last year and I hope we can make less drama this year,” said Rune ahead of Wednesday’s quarter-final.

Ruud is the in-form clay court player with 85 wins on the surface since 2020.