MADRID, Spain - 2018 Mutua Madrid Open semifinalist Caroline Garcia returned to the third round at the Caja Magica on Tuesday, dispatching 2016 quarterfinalist Sorana Cirstea, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.

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"It was such a battle, especially in the first two sets," Garcia said during her on-court interview. "I think I started the match very well, and then Sorana got the rhythm and got better and better. She was moving very well today. In the third set, I calmed down and tried to play more aggressively so I could take time away from her."

Garcia enjoyed her best result at this event last year - falling to eventual runner-up Kiki Bertens in the last four - and recovered from a second set hiccup to race through the deciding set after two hours and two minutes on Stadium 3.

"When I start a tournament, I want to go very far, but I take it match by match. I'm very happy with my win today; I can play better, but I'm proud how I fought in the third set and levelled up my game. Tomorrow is going to be a big fight, so I'll try to do that and find a solution."

The two had played just once before, with the Frenchwoman emerging victorious at the 2017 Rogers Cup, but that took three sets and Cirstea, fresh off an upset of Volvo Car Open champion Madison Keys, was primed to give Garcia another test as the match got underway. 

"I was really expecting a great fight," she said after the match. "She really played a great first round against Madison, so I was really looking forward to this one. It was a big battle, and not always clean tennis from me, but a lot of intensity from both sides."

Garcia broke in the first game and held on to take the opening set, saving two break points in the eighth game as the Romanian consistently threatened to level proceedings. Serving for the opening set, the former World No.4 saved two more break points to put herself one set from victory.

The second set continued on fairly even footing, with the turning point coming as Garcia served down 3-4; Cirstea engineered a third pair of break chances, converting the third and leveling the match on her own serve.

Though the momentum was ostensibly with the 2009 French Open quarterfinalist, it was Garcia who got on the board early and often in the final set, taking a quick 5-0 lead before Cirstea interrupted things with a hold.

"I was feeling a bit frustrated at the end of the second set, but I was able to keep calm, refresh for the third set, and play way better."

Undaunted, Garcia responded with a hold of her own to secure victory in just over two hours.

In all, she struck 35 winners to Cirstea's 22, and converted three of five break point opportunities; Cirstea, by contrast, will be left to rue her one of 11 conversion rate and 38% win percentage behind her second serve.

Up next for the 2017 China Open champion is No.2 seed and defending champion Petra Kvitova, who knocked out Garcia's Fed Cup teammate Kristina Mladenovic in straight sets on Monday.

"It's always very difficult to play against Petra. She won last year her and so the conditions are very good for her. The last time we played in Miami, and I lost, but this will be our first match on clay. I'm always very excited to play top players; I will have to play better than today, trust myself, and be aggressive.

"Against the best players is when you learn the most about yourself, and it's for these matches that I train and practice. It's like home here for her, because she's won here so many times. I want to try to put all my practice from the last few weeks on the court tomorrow."