LONDON, Great Britain - Former World No.10 Kristina Mladenovic finds herself in one of the most intriguing sections of the Wimbledon ladies' singles draw, having first beaten Tatjana Maria, the WTA's highest-ranked mother on tour, and will next play the most famous, seven-time champion Serena Williams, back at the All England Club for the first time since giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Jr.
"I'm really impressed, first of all, and inspired by those girls, those women, mothers, players, really," Mladenovic said after her second round win over Maria. "Serena is a huge champion. She's a legend now for me in our sport. I don't want to say it's too easy for her [to come back]; I just expected it.
"There are others like Tatjana Maria, who had to come back from scratch after giving birth and is probably playing the best tennis she played in her career. It's very inspiring. I think it's amazing to see. I have a lot of respect for that because sometimes you try to see yourself in that position. 'Would I be able to do that? How my life is going to turn to be?' Because we are all girls and women, and life is not just about tennis. It's very great to see. They are great examples for women in the world."
Mladenovic won back-to-back matches at a major tournament for the first time since last year at Wimbledon, when she was in the midst of a career-best stretch that ultimately saw her crack the Top 10 for the first time last fall. Playing at a particular high level in doubles with partner Timea Babos, the 25-year-old Frenchwoman beat Maria on Centre Court after a late court reassignment on Wednesday, ending the German's stunning run of results that included a maiden WTA title at the Mallorca Open and a first round victory over No.5 seed Elina Svitolina.
"It was a big privilege to be the match, to be moved on Centre Court. It was a very nice surprise to me. To be honest, I was chilling on the terrace, looking above my shoulder, how Stan [Wawrinka] was going on, 4-3 in the first set, so I was pretty relaxed.
"Then the referee came to me and said, 'You're next on Centre Court.' It was a very nice surprise, and also obviously lucky when you see how it turned out to be right now with all the suspended matches.
"I knew what I had to do. The commitment was great. I really used my patterns, what I know to do on a tennis court. I had the response to her game, but she's a very tricky opponent, very talented, and in really good confidence. She was on a roll, but happily not against me. I feel sorry for her, because she's a very nice girl and friend. I'm happy I managed to find a solution compared to actually the top players she beat recently. So I really tried to push forward and come closing out the points at the net."
Standing between Mladenovic and the second week of Wimbledon is Williams, who hasn't lost a match at this tournament since 2014, having won the title in 2015 and 2016. The duo played just once before in singles two years ago at Roland Garros, culminating in a thrilling second set tie-break that the American won, 10-8.
"I remember was a really close one where I had my opportunities, but not much I could regret from the match. She was serving big; obviously that's her biggest weapon, and we all know that.
"I see it as a very big honor and opportunity to play her, and I know what to expect. When she shows up on court, she's confident and she knows she's playing well, otherwise she wouldn't be here. I think she proved that in the first two matches.
"It will be really up to me to try to bring some great tennis if I want to have my shot."
Mladenovic and Williams will face off as the second match on Centre Court on Friday.