LINZ, Austria -- Kristina Mladenovic of France claimed a spot in the Upper Austria Ladies Linz quarterfinals on Thursday, battling back from a set down to upset No.4 seed Donna Vekic of Croatia, 3-6, 6-1, 6-2.
The head-to-head between the pairing was tied at 2-2 coming into the tilt, but Vekic had been the victor in their two meetings this season, notching straight-set wins at the Australian Open and Nottingham. However, Mladenovic regained the upper hand in their rivalry with her one-hour and 50-minute triumph at Linz.
Each of the combatants was sterling when attacking her opponent's second serves during the tilt, but it was Mladenovic who shrugged off a difficult first set on serve to take command in the final two sets. The Frenchwoman went 4-for-4 on converting break points in the second and third sets, while successfully staving off the four break points she faced in that timeframe as well.
Mladenovic moves into a quarterfinal clash with last year’s Linz runner-up Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia. 8th-seeded Alexandrova battled past Germany’s Laura Siegemund 7-6(1), 2-6, 6-4 in two hours and 42 minutes earlier on Thursday to earn a spot in the elite eight.
As the match began, both players were aggressive on return but unable to capitalize on their own service games, as six consecutive breaks opened the encounter. It was Vekic who stopped that run, fending off a point for a seventh consecutive break with a strong serve, then earning the first hold of the day with a forehand winner down the line to reach 4-3.
Mladenovic could not counter, firing her seventh double fault of the set on break point in the next game to drop serve once more and cede a 5-3 lead to Vekic. The Croat again delivered a solid service game, leading to a Mladenovic netted return on set point which gave Vekic the opening frame.
The second set, though, was controlled by Mladenovic. The Frenchwoman finally held serve in the first game, and that spurred her on to further success, breaking for a 3-1 lead after a superb forehand return set up a forehand winner. Mladenovic erased a chance for Vekic to get back on serve in the very next game, and consolidated for 4-1.
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Mladenovic, who ventured forward more frequently and with more variety in the second set, stole another break from Vekic with a forehand return winner off of the netcord, garnering a chance to serve for the set at 5-1. There, the French player erased a break point with a strong serve which was returned long, and locked up the set two points later after a wide pass by Vekic.
Mladenovic kept her momentum going in the decider, using ferocious forehands, many off the return, to break Vekic for a 3-2 lead. The Frenchwoman then used stellar defense to fend off a barrage of Vekic forehands while holding another break point at 4-2, ultimately forcing an error from the Croat and claiming a dominant 5-2 final-set lead.
Two superb Vekic service returns allowed her to erase a match point and garner a break point in the next game, but a beautiful backhand down the line allowed Mladenovic to pull back to deuce, where the Frenchwoman fired an ace to attain a second match point. There, an error-forcing forehand sealed the upset victory.
More to follow....