Caroline Wozniacki closer to erasing unwanted asterisk
Home favourite Kristina Mladenovic stuns defending champion Garbine Muguruza
Denmark’s Caroline Wozniacki returns the ball to Russia’s Svetlana Kuznetsova during their fourth-round match at the French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. Photograph: Christophe Simon/AFP/Getty Images
Wozniacki is that rare beast: a twice year-end world number one-ranked tennis player who has never won a Grand Slam.
There have been others but none who reigned so long at world number one – 67 weeks – without success on the Grand Slam stage.
On Sunday the Dane beat Kuznetsova, a player with two Grand Slam titles in the bag but who has never scaled the women’s rankings to the very top.
The 6-1 4-6 6-2 victory eased Wozniacki into the quarter-finals at Roland Garros, matching her best performance here in 2010.
“Obviously it’s just kind of clicking this week,” Wozniacki smiled as she spoke to reporters. “Hopefully I can keep going this way. Now I just try and stay focused and keep my head down.”
Wozniacki streaked into the lead on a sun-baked Philippe Chatrier court, running away with the first set as 2009 champion Kuznetsova struggled with her range.
Eighth seed Kuznetsova soon struck back to level matters, using her weight of shot to overpower the Dane.
Kuznetsova was always likely to hit the big winners but they were too few, and errors more plentiful, as Wozniacki grabbed two early breaks in the decider.
The 11th seed, her luminous green racquet a rapier to Kuznetsova’s broadsword, eased into a 3-0 lead but after a few meaty swings Kuznetsova broke back.
It was only a temporary reprieve for the Russian, though, and Wozniacki reasserted her control, pummelling a two-fisted backhand down the line to win the match, before firing a ball into the upper tier of the stands.
“Yeah, it was definitely a good win,” she said. “Svetlana obviously plays really well on this surface. I knew it was going to be a tough match going in.
“I started off really, really well. My game plan was working and kind of kept her on her toes with putting in some dropshots and mixing up the pace.
“I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. I knew that she was going to try to fight her way back. She did in the second set, but I managed to close it off in three, which I’m happy about.”
“Definitely two tough opponents, two very different opponents. Sam loves the clay. She’s had great results here in the past.
“Either one is going to be tough. Ostapenko goes for her shots and plays flat. When she’s on fire, she’s tough.”
Tough or not, the dazzlingly white smile is back on Wozniacki’s face, and without the pregnant Serena Williams and the missing Maria Sharapova in the draw, she might just be ready to erase that asterisk next to her name.
Kristina Mladenovic overcame 16 double faults to stun defending champion Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round of the French Open.
This was the biggest match of the women’s tournament so far – 2016 winner against great French hope.
Mladenovic has been one of the form players of the year and arrived in Paris high on the list of favourites to lift the trophy, despite only having reached the quarter-finals of a Grand Slam once.
She can now make that twice after a 6-1 3-6 6-3 victory over Muguruza that was not short on drama.
Mladenovic raced through the first set but Muguruza pegged her back, with the Spaniard looking much more like the player who stunned Serena Williams last year than the one who has failed to make a single final since.
Muguruza had taken confidence from coming through three tough matches but a break of serve at the start of the decider gave the impetus back to Mladenovic.
The 24-year-old tweaked her back on the eve of the tournament and has struggled on serve ever since.
She was under pressure in almost every game – often self-inflicted with a raft of double faults.
But Mladenovic played superbly on the big points, pumping her fist and screaming after every one, and Muguruza’s resistance wilted in a poor final game.
The Spaniard stormed off court wagging her finger at the vocal crowd, while Mladenovic celebrated almost as if she had won the tournament, running to shake hands with French federation president Bernard Giudicelli.
Three more wins would see her become the first home winner of a singles title at Roland Garros since Mary Pierce in 2000, but there must be some concern over how much physical and emotional energy she has expended.
The 13th seed came close to losing in both the first and third rounds and must now refocus for a last-eight clash Timea Bacsinszky, who ended Venus Williams’s chances of adding a first French Open title to her collection of seven grand slams faded on Sunday after a 5-7 6-2 6-1 win over the American.
It was the second year running that Williams, seeded 10th and competing in her 20th French Open, lost to the Swiss in the Roland Garros fourth round even though she fought back from 5-1 down to rattle off six straight games to win the first set.
“She just played well. She just came out with great tennis a lot of the time. The risk was rewarded for her,” Williams said. “I feel I played well today but I did not quite figure out the solution in time.”
The 27-year-old Bacsinszky, who had wasted two set points in the first set, frustrated the American by playing a string of drop shots and won the next two sets with ease. The Swiss clinched the match with a delectable drop shot.
“The first set I had a big lead but I started making catastrophic errors,” Bacsinszky said.
“I then threw some cold water on my face and told myself not to finish the Sunday like that. So I came back and played a more versatile game.”
Bacsinszky, the only woman to have reached the Roland Garros quarter-finals in 2015, 2016 and 2017, will face local favourite Mladenovic in the last eight.