Title contender Simona Halep pulled through against young pretender Daria Kasatkina in a French Open rollercoaster on Saturday, winning 6-0 7-5 after at first threatening to dismantle the 20-year-old Russian in their third-round match.
The third-seeded Romanian – a beaten finalist in Paris in 2014 – is being tipped as a title favourite after a stellar run-up on clay to this year’s tournament.
She romped through the first set of Saturday’s third round match in 30 minutes, with an ankle injury she sustained in mid-May giving her no more than a single twinge.
“I felt it a little bit at one backhand, because I turned too much . . . But [it] doesn’t bother me much, so I’m not thinking about it. I can run, I can slide,” she told a news conference.
Kasatkina, who in April won her first WTA title in Charleston, initially found the big-game atmosphere on Court Suzanne Lenglen more of a hindrance than a help.
Her groundstrokes tentative and her movements jerky, she fell back on slices and dropshots as her opponent hit powerfully into both corners from the back of the court.
In their only previous tour match, Halep had triumphed in two close sets on the hard courts of Miami in 2016. Here she won nine of the first 10 games.
Then the 26th-seeded Russian, the highest-ranked teenager in the world before turning 20 in May, sparked into life.
She won the next four games and held three set points in the 10th game, dominating an opponent who had won in Madrid – one of the two main warm-up tournament for Paris – and finished runner-up in the other in Rome.
But Halep edged through 6-0 7-5, closing out the match with a backhand that stuck the net chord and that Kasatkina failed to return.
“I played really well at the beginning,” a relieved and smiling Halep said courtside. “She was coming back really strongly and I think my energy went a bit down . . . She’s a really tough opponent.”
Halep will play Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro in the fourth round. Home advantage played fully as Caroline Garcia rode the Mexican waves on Court One, breaking the resilience of Taiwan's Hsoeh Su-Wei to join Kristina Mladenovic and Alize Cornet in the fourth round.
It will be the first time since 1994 – and only the third since tennis turned professional in 1968 – that three Frenchwomen will play the last 16 at Roland Garros, with the extra guarantee that one will be in the quarter-finals as Cornet will take on Garcia.
In 1994, Mary Pierce reached the final after knocking out Steffi Graf in the last four, eventually losing to Arantxa Sanchez.
After 'Kiki' Mladenovic fed off the Court Suzanne Lenglen crowd to down Shelby Rogers in an epic three-setter on Friday, Garcia was pumped up by the crowd on Court One who chanted, screamed or yelled her nickname 'Caro' throughout in a Fed Cup atmosphere.
Garcia prevailed 6-4 4-6 9-7 after the unpredictable Hsieh, whose sliced shots unsettled the local favourite, had served for the match at 5-4.
Four of the six longest matches in the women’s draw involved a French player – Cornet, Garcia and Mladenovic twice – showing that when pushed to the limit, the home support can be key.
Expectations have been so high on players to succeed Pierce, the 2000 champion, that many of them, most notably Amelie Mauresmo, crumbled under pressure at Roland Garros.
Garcia was one of them. A 17-year-old hot prospect in 2011, she was leading Maria Sharapova 6-3 4-1 when she weakened, losing 11 games in a row, and the second-round match.
This year, however, she and the others have appeared to thrive.
“I have experienced a lot of things at the French Open and this is helping me,” said Garcia.
“At the beginning of the match today I was a bit stressed but then I just thought about my game. If we play on Chatrier with Alize, I’m ready. If you want to win a Grand Slam, you have to be able to play on the big courts.”
Whether Garcia will be supported by the crowd against Cornet is another matter after she said she would snub a Fed Cup call-up earlier this season, triggering the anger of her team-mates.
“I think that the relationship is not very good,” said Cornet after what she called an ‘unexpected’ 6-2 6-1 third-round win against ninth seed Agnieszka Radwanska.