INDIAN WELLS, CA, USA - 2017 BNP Paribas Open semifinalist Kristina Mladenovic booked a second clash with World No.1 Naomi Osaka in three weeks, saving two set points to defeat Zheng Saisai, 7-5, 6-2 to reach the second round at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden.
"It's pretty funny, playing her back-to-back," she said after the match. "It's not the easiest draw for me, but I believe it's the same for her; it won't be easy playing me back-to-back either.
"It's going to be a brand new match. The conditions are completely the opposite to what they were in Dubai: different balls, different surface. I'm sure her game suits well here as the defending champion, and I'm sure she wants to build on some wins again. I'm going to go out there confident, show a fight, and execute as well as I did a few weeks ago."
Mladenovic scored her first win over a reigning World No.1 when she beat Osaka at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships in February, and put on a similarly efficient performance against Zheng on Thursday, securing victory after 94 minutes on Stadium 2.
"It was a tricky match," Mladenovic said. "It wasn't easy at all; I think the conditions here suit her game well. They suit mine too, but coming up in this match, I had my gameplan to be really aggressive from first to last point. I was also trying to close out points at the net because she moves really well; she's always making you play the extra ball, so if you don't come up to the net, it can be endless rallies."
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The Frenchwoman debuted a new service motion after winning the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global and reaching the Australian Open doubles final with childhood friend Timea Babos, and the revamped motion was in full effect against Zheng, helping her maintain a 72% first serve percentage and win 60% of her first serve points.
"Even though I got broken twice, my serving statistics were pretty good. I was consistent with the first serve percentage. It was pretty solid, and the way I kept my composure, digging deep and not doubting my gameplan. It was kind of physical because we had some great rallies, and there's lots of variety in her game. It was about being on the right foot and finding the right balance."
Twice trailing by a break to start the match, Zheng turned the tables on Mladenovic and nearly took the opening set in a tight tenth game, holding two set points on the former World No.10's serve.
"There were ups and downs in the first set. I had some momentum where I was executing perfectly and things seemed easy. Other moments, I was rushing too much and making mistakes. I had a few bad volleys that cost me a break back, but I kept fighting, executing the plan.
"I had two set points to save because I was thinking about how, if I didn't make them, I'd be one set down, so I played two really good points, managing well and playing bravely on the second set point in particular. I was just fighting in the first set to find that balance between being aggressive and not rushing too much."
Mladenovic saved both and was largely untroubled from there, sealing the set with an ace and came out on top of a trio of service breaks early in the second to serve out her spot in the second round.
"It helped to be the one winning the first set because I had momentum, and I found an even better balance in the second. It wasn't as easy as the scoreboard could show, but overall, for a first round, I'm pretty pleased with how I played."
Awaiting there is top seed and defending champion Osaka, who will be playing her first match since falling to Mladenovic, 6-3, 6-3, in Dubai.
"It's going to be a big match, and a big challenge for me, because playing a World No.1 is a big thing, and getting to do it twice in a row will be big, for sure."